Munster’s battling bonus-point victory over Edinburgh can lay the foundations for a repeat success in Saturday’s must-win Guinness Pro12 finale at home to Scarlets, Anthony Foley believes.
Head coach Foley’s inexperienced Munster side went 44 minutes without scoring against Edinburgh on Friday night in Cork as the visitors closed their half-time deficit from 20-10 to 20-19. Yet Munster held their nerve at Musgrave Park to eke out a late fourth try stemming from an impressive driving maul and finished by Francis Saili with Johnny Holland’s 78th minute conversion crucially denying the Scots a losing bonus point.
That enabled Munster to replace Edinburgh in sixth place in the league, now occupying the final qualifying spot in the Pro12 for next season’s Champions Cup with just one game remaining. Foley’s team are now on 58 points, four ahead of Ospreys in seventh, with Edinburgh down to eighth on 53 their only remaining rivals for the berth in Europe’s premier club competition.
A last-day victory at Thomond Park will be no formality against a Scarlets side five points ahead of Munster and still looking to overtake Ulster and claim a top-four finish that would assure them of a Pro12 play-off spot.
Yet Foley is satisfied that five points gained from their win over Edinburgh has at least put next season’s destiny back in his player’s grasp.
“That’s what we’ve done, basically, we’ve brought it back into our own control,” Foley said. “We’ve a grip of it but we’ve a job to do next week. Win next week; how do we do that, we make sure that the boys are fresh. That was a bruising encounter out there.
A lot of our players are sore and we need to make sure we turn up in Thomond Park next week, fit, fresh and ready to run our legs off again.
Munster got off to the brightest of starts in front of a passionate 8,200 sell-out crowd that Foley said were “worth 10 points” to his side with early tries coming from Rory Scannell, Simon Zebo and Andrew Conway. Yet going scoreless between 33 and 77 minutes will equally stand Munster in good stead, Foley believes, because his players managed to stay composed before going on to deliver the bonus point.
“Now they know. When they’re in those situations again they’ll know how to manage it. We still need to figure out a few things around possession. You can’t go that length of time without the ball because you get exposed and you can’t ask fellas to keep turning up and making tackles for three or four moments at time, we need to manage that better.”
Foley was particularly delighted by the performances of less experienced players such as fly-half Johnny Holland and centre Rory Scannell for stepping up to the mark.
“I know Andrew Conway got man of the match, we’d a young 10 out there, but I thought our 12 was pretty good again. He does get exposed but he’s learning as well, our back row got through an amount of work so you’d moments.
But once that maul went 50 metres up the pitch, and I know we conceded a penalty at the back end of it, it probably gave belief to them that if we could get another maul going then we had them. A lot of these guys are young and for them to step up, you can’t hide away from the fact you don’t have a Botha, Chisholm, Keatley, Jones, Hurley or an O’Connell or an O’Mahony.
“That’s a massive spine of experience that has left the group so fellas are learning on the job. There are guys stepping up now. CJ (Stander) and Billy (Holland) have been immense. The front row have been collective.
“They were put through it tonight and you can’t hide that. Edinburgh) have the best scrum in the competition, an international front-row that have dominated the Six Nations and against the southern hemisphere. “Everyone respects them, the converted hooker (Stuart McInally) scrums for Scotland. You have Conor Murray who has got through the early career with Munster without having to make massive decisions so he is at the forefront of that. It’s great to see the group coming together like that and it gives a belief to the future of the indigenous player that they are coming through and they’re getting the opportunity. They need a hand as well and that’s what we’re all there for.”
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