Rassie Erasmus admitted his Munster side lost the breakdown battle as Leicester gained Champions Cup revenge with a last-gasp 18-16 pool victory at Welford Road today,.
The Tigers rebounded from their European record 38-0 defeat at Thomond Park last Saturday by scoring a deserved win at home to keep their hopes of qualification alive with two Pool matches remaining.
Munster, despite seeing their seven-match winning run halted, still hold their fate in their own hands after taking a losing bonus point with three games to play, two of them against already eliminated French champions Racing 92.
Yet there was bitter disappointment for the Munster management as they let victory slip in the dying minutes having taken a 16-15 lead through a Niall Scannell try converted by Tyler Bleyendaal with four minutes remaining.
A breakdown penalty was conceded soon after and from inside his own half, Tigers fly-half Owen Williams sent over the winning points from 52 metres.
Asked if Leicester had won the forward battle during a scrappy arm-wrestle of a contest, director of rugby Erasmus replied: “I wouldn’t just say the forward battle.
“They got stuck into us at the breakdown and at maul time, I thought we had the number on them. The scrums: they had the upper hand then we had the upper hand. So, I wouldn’t say the forward battle but the breakdown battle, they did a number on us.”
Munster knew they could expect a backlash from a Leicester side asked by their director of rugby Richard Cockerill to describe their Limerick hammering in one word. The winning word was “embarrassing” and the Tigers got their bite back on Saturday, Williams kicking all six of the penalties presented to him as a result of that breakdown dominance.
“We feared that would be the case,” Erasmus said. “It was a Leicester team that were playing for survival and they were really desperate and they deserved to win the game.
“Even if that kick didn’t go over, I feel, overall, they played better than us on the day. I thought it was a good match. At the end of the day, I thought they deserved to win.”
Munster must next travel to Paris for their rearranged round one meeting with Racing, postponed in October following the sudden death of head coach Anthony Foley. They must then travel to Glasgow before welcoming the Parisians back to Thomond Park in round six.
“It’s exciting,” Erasmus said. “From my side, it’s nerve-wracking but it’s exciting. It’s a pool where at the beginning, everyone was saying we’re going to be the easy game in the pool after the way we played last year.
“I think we’re growing into a steady and a solid team. We’ve got a way to go. All of a sudden, a team doesn’t become unbeatable. So, yeah, it’s a very tight pool currently. We’ve got a game in hand but there are two away games coming so it’s tough to go forward.”