Doug Howlett, the legendary former All Black, will lead Munster into the upcoming season following his official appointment as captain yesterday in succession to Paul O’Connell, but judging from this lacklustre display, he will have to help coach Rob Penney devise a better plan to get the show back on the road when the RaboDirect Pro12 campaign kicks off next weekend, with the Irish side playing away to Edinburgh.
Once again, Penney bemoaned the fact Munster had suffered from so many unforced errors — his count was 25 against a pretty full London Irish outfit. “Too many,” he said, “way too many.”
If there was a positive from last night’s disappointment, it was that Howlett continues to recover from Achilles tendon surgery and on a night when not much went right for the Munster back division, he didn’t put a foot wrong.
In advance of the game, he got a vote of confidence from O’Connell, who said: “I’ve been squad captain for six seasons and just felt it was time to step back and let someone else assume the role. I thought the timing was right with the new coaching structure and I think we’re unbelievably fortunate to have a player of Doug’s calibre to step in.”
Notwithstanding last night’s disappointment, Howlett is delighted to take on the challenge: “It’s such a great honour to have been asked to captain this squad. It truly is one of the highlights of my career. I know I’ve big boots to fill following Paul, Axel (Anthony Foley), Mick Galwey and Jim Williams. And I’m also aware of the number of leaders in this squad, people well capable of doing this job. That makes my appointment all the more worthy and humbling.”
Last night, Munster were humbled as Tomás O’Leary made a triumphant return to Cork with his new club. Munster had a fair share of possession, particularly in the first half, but London Irish made the most of the chances that came their way, Steven Shingler kicking them into a 17th minute lead and then helping to manufacture the game’s opening try, when he broke a midfield tackle to allow Tom Homer set up Topsy Ojo for the 24th minute score. The out-half converted for a 10-0 lead and he added a penalty in the 33rd minute.
Ian Keatley had missed an earlier penalty opportunity for Munster and James Coughlan was subsequently unlucky not to score a try when he charged down Homer’s attempted clearance. After much huffing and puffing, Munster finally got points on the board courtesy of Keatley’s second penalty opportunity. 13-3 at half time to the visitors.
It didn’t get much better for Munster, even if the visitors lost centre Joe Ansbro with what appeared to be a serious neck injury early in the second half. Cranking up the pressure, London Irish benefited with three penalties from Shingler to push the lead out to 22-3. The out-half finished Munster’s challenge with a 57th minute try he converted himself. Marland Yard rubbed salt into the wounds with a 74th minute breakaway try that summed up Munster’s evening. It mattered little Sean Henry got an 80th minute try for Munster, converted by Scott Deasy.
MUNSTER: D Hurley; D Howlett (captain). C Laulala, J Downey, J Murphy; I Keatley, D Williams; W du Preez, D Varley, BJ Botha; D Foley, B Holland; T O’Donnell, S Dougall, J Coughlan. Replacements used: M Horan, S Deasy, S Henry, I Dinneen, P Donnellan, P Butler, P Stringer, S Scanlon, S Archer.
LONDON IRISH: T Homer, T Ojo, J Joseph, J Ansboro, S Tagicabicuo, S Shingler, T O’Leary, M. Lahiff, S Lawson, L Halavutua, B Evans (captain), G Skivington, J Gibson, J Fisher, O Treviranus
Replacements used: S Malton, H Auliki, J Doherty, G Ellis, A Gray, D Allinson, C. Gaston, M Ward, F Horan, M Yard K Low
Referee: D Wilkinson (IRFU)
lA minute’s silence was observed in memory of former Munster player and official Gerald Reidy, who died earlier this week.