O’Driscoll expressed disappointment with the A’s latest display that came at a cost with injuries to Johnny Holland (torn hamstring) and Luke O’Dea (suspected broken hand) making Friday’s assignment all the more daunting.
Trailing 6-16 entering the last quarter and having lost outhalf Holland, a re-jigged Munster backline and forward unit — bolstered in no small measure by the introduction of Gerry Hurley, Christy Condon and Joe McSwiney — helped eke out two converted tries, and leave a stunned Nottingham side return home with just a losing bonus point.
The overall performance of captain and No 8, Jack O’Donoghue, and the second half contribution of Johne Murphy were some of the positives from a game in which a below-par Munster struggled until the last quarter to subdue a near full-strength Nottingham side.
O’Driscoll heaped special praise on Munster’s dynamic 20-year-old back row forward, O’Donoghue, with the former Reds stalwart tipping the Waterford man for full provincial and international honours.
“Jack is a super player,” said O’Driscoll of O’Donoghue . “He’s not a million miles off playing senior rugby either. He has come in this year, works very hard and leads by example. He would remind you of the older style back rows. He is going to be a very good prospect and I’ve no doubt that he’ll go on to play for Ireland in the not too distant future.”
Two Johnny Holland penalties helped Munster to a 6-0 lead after 13 minutes but Nottingham bossed proceedings from there until the break. The home side’s scrum struggled while the English Championship side’s blitz defence, combined with the speed of wingers Ryan Hough and Liam O’Neill and No. 8 Paul Grant, caused O’Driscoll’s men a plethora of problems.
Two Will Maisey penalties were followed in the 33rd minute by a well-worked try out wide — Edward Styles touching down following a beautifully floated pass from Maisey. In the build-up Munster continually infringed at the breakdown and referee Dan Jones binned Martin Kelly, while Alan Cotter followed him to the line early in the second half for a similar offence.
“We had a very slow start,” commented O’Driscoll. “They came over here to play rugby and they impressed. We were a bit soft in the first half — we left them play all the rugby. We couldn’t hold onto the ball, we weren’t accurate at the breakdown and that just killed us. We had a period in the second half when things just went our way and that made the difference.”
That period coincided with the introduction of Hurley, Condon and McSwiney and a try in the 66th minute. Murphy kick-started it from full back, it was continued by Sean Dougall who fed O’Donoghue and the big No.8 ran untouched to the line.
Rory Scannell — now at outhalf- converted and also added the extras to a penalty try Jones awarded in the 70th minute after a series of infringements in a Munster maul near the line.
“When Johne got on the ball that was when things started to go well and gave that lift that we needed. A combination of everything speeded up the game for us,” said O’Driscoll of Munster’s last quarter flourish.
Munster’s defence stayed strong in the closing moments and, during seven minutes of injury time, Scannell added a penalty to stretch the winning margin to seven points.
“Friday night in CIT is going to be another huge test for us,” said O’Driscoll on the visit of Worcester to Cork for round five. “Munster have Clermont (in the Champions Cup) on the Saturday so we’ll have to see what the situation is with injuries after today’s game and the Ulster match. We could be down four or five guys based on today alone.
“It’s going to be a huge task. Worcester are a fine team – we should have beaten them over there and we’ll need to up our overall performance if we are to win.”
MUNSTER A: J Murphy; D Sweetnam, I Dineen, R Scannell, L O’Dea; J Holland, J Glynn; A Cotter, N Scannell, M Kelly; S Buckley, S McCarthy; R Murphy, S Dougall, J O’Donoghue (c).
Replacements: G O’Shea for O’Dea (inj. 22);C Condon for R Murphy and D Goggin for Holland (inj) (both 46); J McSwiney for M Kelly (53); L Nicholas for O’Donoghue (78)
NOTTINGHAM RUGBY: B Robinson; R Hough, E Styles, J Pohe, L O’Neill; W Maisey, A Smit; G Porter, J Vickers, C Carey; T Freeman, D Montague; R Cooper, M Everard, P Grant (c).
Referee: D Jones (WRU)