Munster head to London this weekend desperate to keep their season alive with a victory over English champions Harlequins at The Stoop in Sunday’s Heineken Cup quarter-final. They leave Ireland on the back of a wretched run of RaboDirect Pro12 form that has seen hopes of a sixth successive semi-final berth all but disappear following three defeats and a draw in the last five games. Last Friday’s 51-24 hammering by Glasgow in Scotstoun was Munster’s worst result in nine years.
Sections of the media and many supporters are pointing the finger of blame at first-year head coach Penney making a direct link between the poor form and costly errors that have pockmarked Munster’s campaign and his introduction of a more varied and expansive game plan.
Yet Kilcoyne, one of Munster’s Generation Next of homegrown players who have already risen to Ireland recognition alongside Simon Zebo and Conor Murray, insists the province’s game plan and future direction is in safe hands with Penney and it is up to the players to sharpen up their act. I think it’s completely unfair. I think with Rob, it’s great to see his outlook on the game,” Kilcoyne said. “He has a vision for us going forward and it’s all about us buying into it and executing that gameplan. He has this vision for us all to be good footballers because that’s what we need to be. It’s a breath of fresh air. I think it’s fantastic what he’s done here and I’d be behind him 100%. I think he’s an outstanding coach.”
There had been signs in the 22-0 defeat of Connacht in Cork two weekends ago that the Penney revolution was finally translating into coherent performances with players making good decisions about when and where to attack space, whether it be direct or by going wide.
Yet despite a promising first-half in Glasgow last Friday, during which Kilcoyne, 24, bagged his first try for Munster, the wheels well and truly fell off, leaving the Reds facing plenty of hard thinking ahead of this weekend’s European showdown.
“We’ve a huge task going ahead this week with the Heineken Cup quarter-final and the lads rocked up on Monday with a huge focus and a brilliant attitude, dying to get out and make amends for last week, trying to get back to where we want to be in Europe,” Kilcoyne said.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily [a case of] turning things around. It’s more going back to the areas where we had built our strength. I suppose we’ll be looking to our set-piece, looking to get sharp and accurate in other areas, especially our D [defence], which has been an area of strength for us.
“I wouldn’t even put [Glasgow] down to a blip. There’s not many games of rugby you see these days where you give away 21 points to intercept tries. That’s not an excuse but there were certain areas we were very happy with, like our set-piece and maul, and we know we have to be more clinical and accurate and not allow teams the opportunities to take three intercept tries against us. You just can’t do it at this level and certainly not at Heineken Cup level.”