Just as the Rob Penney regime had fizzled out with home league defeats last spring to Glasgow and Ulster, Munster’s brave new world with an indigenous coaching staff began with a whimper rather than a bang as Edinburgh scored their first victory on Irish soil since December 2012 to end a week blighted by the fallout from reports of a leaked internal email.
Despite having been outscored two to one in tries, it was Tom Heathcote’s boot which proved more accurate than Ian Keatley’s to secure the Scots their win.
A try in each half from CJ Stander came to nought as two missed conversions and an errant penalty at the death from Keatley allowed Edinburgh to sneak home courtesy of Jack Cuthbert’s first-half try and three penalties from Heathcote.
It had been a sloppy Munster start with the concession of two early penalties handing Edinburgh a soft 6-0 lead.
Munster were turning ball over with uncomfortable regularity and it nearly cost them 13 minutes in when Edinburgh launched a swift counter from their own 22 in the left corner, the ball quickly finding Dougie Fife on the right wing, the Scottish flyer motoring towards the home line before wrong-footing Andrew Conway to glide over.
Yet the pass to Fife was ruled forward and Munster were off the hook.
Keatley twice spurned the chance to kick penalties in favour of the corner but Munster still made no inroads, the first spark of creativity coming when Simon Zebo chipped and charged in the 22nd minute, forcing an Edinburgh knock-on.
It didn’t last long, Munster conceding another penalty on the half-hour from a deliberate knock-on by Duncan Williams. Again, they escaped as Heathcote missed the kick and the tide turned further when Zebo was tip-tackled on his 22, flanker Tomas Leonardi binned for his sins in the 32nd minute.
Keatley’s resultant penalty upfield was parlayed into points at long last as Munster earned another penalty, the fly-half kicking to the corner again and the five-metre lineout producing a maul from which Stander peeled away, received a pass from Williams and crashed over, finally putting Munster into the game at 5-6.
Keatley missed the kick and Edinburgh moved into a 9-5 lead, Heathcote making amends for his earlier miss.
The start of the second half provided impetus with Zebo launching an attack into the 22, the ensuing ruck worrying the visitors enough for Hamish Watson to follow his fellow back-rower Leonardi into the sin bin for killing the ball. That reduced Edinburgh to 13 men briefly, although Munster’s threat was curiously repelled when referee Hodges overturned a penalty after a consultation with his touch judge.
The Scots went on the attack themselves, speedy back line play again outfoxing the Munster defence as centre Sam Beard kicked behind opposing 13 Johne Murphy, allowing full-back Jack Cuthbert to pounce on the loose ball as 14-man Edinburgh’s went 14-5 up with 30 minutes to play.
The score stung Munster into a period of concerted pressure, their forwards keeping Edinburgh pinned inside their own 22 until the 59th minute when Stander crashed over for his second of the night. Keatley could ill afford to miss the conversion but he made amends 10 minutes later with a penalty, much to the relief of an increasingly agitated crowd, whose number officially stood at 13,428, including season ticket holders.
However many were actually here, they appeared set fair for a climactic final 10 minutes with Munster just a point behind at 13-14.
It took until the final minute for that to come to pass and only once Heathcote had missed a long-range penalty that would have killed off Munster’s hopes.
Munster progressed to the Edinburgh 10m line, where substitute Willem Nel killed the ball at a ruck and received a yellow card, leaving Keatley with a penalty to save Munster’s blushes. He did not and Munster lost their first seasonal opener since 2009, logging an unenviable record in the process.
MUNSTER: R O’Mahony (I Dineen, 41); A Conway, J Murphy, A Smith, S Zebo; I Keatley, D Williams (C Sheridan 72); J Ryan, K O’Byrne (D Casey 46), BJ Botha (S Archer 75); D O’Callaghan (D Foley 52) , B Holland, CJ Stander, S Dougall (T O’Donnell 52), S Buckley.
EDINBURGH: J Cuthbert; D Fife, S Beard, A Strauss (P Burleigh 63), T Visser (S H-Clyne 76); T Heathcote, S Kennedy; A Dickinson, R Ford (J Hilterbrand, 61), J Andress (W P Nel, 68); F McKenzie, O Atkins; T Leonardi (M Coman, 61), H Watson, C Du Preez.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales). Guinness PRO 12: Ospreys 44 Benetton Treviso 13.
Limerick Charity Cup: UL Bohemian 29 Thomond 40; Old Crescent 24 Nenagh Ormond 18.
Aviva Premiership Rugby: Northampton 53 Gloucester 6.