On Saturday, however, they suffered their fourth defeat in five matches at their so-called Limerick fortress, going down to the Ospreys, the competition’s worthy table toppers.
It is little consolation to head coach Anthony Foley and his players this was a fine game of rugby, especially in the first-half, when left wing Gerhard Van den Heever and his opposite number Jeff Hasler scored two cracking tries. Otherwise, it was the 100% place kicking record of Ospreys out-half Dan Biggar (four penalties and a conversion) against Ian Keatley’s 60%, who knocked over three penalties but missed a penalty and conversion, that separated the sides at the finish.
It was little wonder Foley subsequently referred on several occasions to “small margins” that are costing his team dearly. “We don’t want to lose at home, so we’re obviously frustrated. It’s something we want to rectify next time out against Scarlets,” he said with commendable calm given understandable disappointment at the way his team is performing.
“We’d never have banked on losing at home... like most teams, we want to make Thomond Park a fortress and we haven’t done that yet. It’s not for want of effort, there were fellas out there pounding their line right up to the finish tonight but it didn’t happen for us and that’s not down to lack of effort. We’re at the wrong end of small margins at the moment.”
In his own illustrious playing days, Foley was above all a pragmatist, always anxious to put the opposition under pressure and for that to happen, the action must be happening at their end of the pitch. And, he accepts, that is not happening at present.
“Our biggest concern is where we are playing the game,” he declared.
“We don’t need to spend that much time in our own half, we don’t need to give the opposition the leg up they’re getting at times. I thought we played too much rugby in our own half, we need to get out of that habit and put pressure on the opposition which we didn’t do in the second-half.
“We did score a good early try but how often did we get into those positions and that’s the frustration. We want to become a little more dominant because at times when we have the ball in hand and are running at the opposition in their half of the pitch, they look under pressure.”
While Conor Murray, captaining the side for the first time, kicked well for the most part and tried hard to vary his game, the lack of midfield penetration was all too familiar for the paltry number of Red Army members who turned up to watch. The scrum held up very well for the most part and while there seems little diminution in the effectiveness of the ageless second-row pair Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan, the side as a whole could have few complaints at the outcome. As Foley admitted, they were often the architects of their own downfall.
“We gave up two soft penalties in the second-half, one for getting ahead of the kicker and another at the scrum when they had only seven men in it,” he groaned.
“It’s hard to fathom. Then we get to the end of the game and you think, hold on to the ball and create more pressure, but, unfortunately, we managed to turn it over and give them the scrum. We’re three weeks away from a European Champions Cup game, we’re trying to build up a head of steam for that and tonight is not what we were looking for.”
MUNSTER: J Murphy; A Conway, I Dineen, D Hurley, G Van den Heever; I Keatley, C Murray capt; D Kilcoyne, D Casey, BJ Botha, D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell, P Butler, S Dougall, CJ Stander.
Replacements: D Foley for O’Callaghan (54), J Cronin for ~Kilcoyne (58), A Smith for Hurley (63), J O’Donoghue for Dougall (65), JJ Hanrahan for Dineen (70), D O’Callaghan for Butler (77).
OSPREYS: D Evans; J Hasler, A Bishop, J Matavesi, E Walker; D Biggar, R Webb; N Smith, S Baldwin, D Arhip, A Wyn Jones, R Bernardo, J Bearman, J Tipuric, D Baker.
Replacements: J King for Tipuric (inj 25), M Allen for Baker (57), D Jones for Smith (57), C Griffiths for Arhip (78).
Referee: N Hennessy (Wales).