CONOR O’Shea may spend most of his time in London these days but he clearly knew enough about Irish and especially Munster rugby to plan and plot their downfall at Thomond Park on Saturday.
Not alone were his Harlequins players well prepared for the stadium’s famed atmosphere and the strong points of the Munster side but he had also utilised some very clever mind games on some of his key men to psyche them up for battle. His captain, Nick Easter, admitted that O’Shea had been needling him almost daily about the manner in which he and his English colleagues had been “battered and bruised” in their Six Nations confrontation with Ireland in March.
Indeed, Easter was so keyed up for this one that he followed one yellow card with another that ensured he would sit out the final 10 minutes.
“This was only the second time Munster have lost here in 16 years in Europe, they have been two times Heineken champions in recent years and so for us to come through here with a relatively young side and win like we did is magnificent for us“, Easter enthused.
“Conor hasn’t shut up about the Ireland-England game for the last five weeks. Of course it’s nice to get a win down here after the drubbing we had in Dublin but for me it was all about the club shirt, Harlequins, and pushing on to getting some silverware in Cardiff.
“So I think they reverted to a type which has won them a lot of games, the pick and go and the maul. In the second-half, more experienced players like Paul O’Connell and John Hayes came on and we were under our sticks a lot of the time. It’s a great place to come and we’ll celebrate hard.”
Easter pointed out that Quins have the second best defence in the Premiership where tries are conceded are concerned and certainly they coped admirably with most Munster attacks.
“We let them build momentum and like any good side that has built momentum, it’s very hard to wrest it back”, said James Coughlan. “We made way too many mistakes, especially in their third of the pitch, and we let ourselves and everybody here down. We’ll have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves for we have another big semi-final coming up. We have a lot of fellas at the end of their careers and moving on and we don’t want this to be the end of our season. That’s our mentality now.”
The concession of several penalties hurt Munster, leaving referee Romain Poite at the butt end of the fans’ irritation. It was his third time driving the Red Army close to insanity and certainly the manner in which he allowed Quins to drift offside hardly seemed to fit with a man now regarded as one of the world’s leading officials. Coughlan instanced a decision against Paul O’Connell under the visitors posts and another against himself for pulling down an opponent in a line-out as “particularly harsh.”
But he added: “We can’t be looking at the ref. The game was there to be won and there’s no point in blaming the fella with the whistle. We lost the game — not him.”
Peter Stringer saw things in a similar light. “Over the years we’ve dealt with that and the underdog tag and always tried to play our own game and concentrate on ourselves. Credit to Harlequins, they came here and defended extremely well and we found it very difficult to break them down.”
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