Saint-André: no shame in losing to champions

MUNSTER are even better than they were when they beat Sale in Limerick three years ago, and went on to win their first Heineken Cup.

That was the verdict of Sale coach Philippe Saint-André last night after his side had again been comprehensively outplayed in Thomond Park. If they continue to play like this, he added, then they will win the competition again this year.

“Last night I watched a lot of video of that game (2006), but today they were fantastic, their urgency in everything they did, so good in the contact area.

“They looked very fresh, looked very strong. They played a very wide game, we were too narrow in defence – fantastic, and if they continue like this again this year they will win the Heineken Cup again.

“I think you need to congratulate Munster; when you concede six tries against a team,” and here the former French star paused to regroup – “Munster gave us a lesson. We were second-best in the contact area, the body positions – Munster played well, we were playing catch-up rugby. We came back within five points, then made mistakes and they punished us again. They played very well, were very physical, won 90 percent of the contact area, and afterwards, when they needed relief, they were able to kick into the corners.

“I have nothing to say but that they were much better than us. Now we can concentrate on the Premiership. We were – we are – the best defence in the Premiership, we have conceded only nine tries in 11 games to date, and today we conceded six. Congratulations to Munster, they played very well, didn’t make many mistakes, and today we weren’t good enough”

What of that, the fact that Sale are flying so high in the much-hyped Guinness Premiership, yet were taken down with such a bang in Limerick?

“It must be a different level,” he conceded, “The Premiership and the Heineken Cup. The last three weeks we beat Wasps, scored 40 points, had Bath away, beat London-Irish, but today we were not in control, we played too much rugby from behind, and then you are taking too many risks.

“After 52 minutes we scored a try, came back to five points, still in the game, but then we made mistakes and Munster came back. The Red Army must be proud tonight, because Munster were fantastic.”

The Red Army – Munster captain Paul O’Connell reckoned the bond, even in this new stadium, is still there, that army of supporters always seem to know when they’re most needed, always seem to come up trumps. Saint-André agrees.

“It’s a new stadium, but I think the atmosphere today was fantastic. To concede six tries, that’s very, very painful for our staff and players, but Munster deserved it, and good luck to them for the rest of the campaign.”

There was that moment, when Sale scored the try spoken of by their coach, an opportunistic quick tap penalty by replacement scrum-half Dwayne Peel which set up the try in the corner for out-half Charlie Hodgson; Peel, in fact, looked very dangerous for the half-hour he was on the pitch – was it a mistake not to start him, to go instead with the more pedestrian but more physical Richard Wiggleworth?

“No, he (Peel) has a fantastic break and everything, but Wiggy and himself, there isn’t much difference. I don’t know if the battle was lost in the scrum-half area — we lost the game in the contact area, I think we had 12 or 13 turnovers, we lost in the kick-off area, we lost in the ruck and the maul – at this level, if you lose so much ball, you can’t expect to win the game.”

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