The statistical breakdown:
And so, it ends. Munster, semi-finalists in both of the last two Heineken Cup campaigns, now face a dead rubber on the final pool weekend of the shiny new European tournament.
This is not how it was supposed to go. But then, in a pool containing the beaten finalists from the last two seasons, expectations from reasonable observers will have been tempered from the off.
The figures from Saturday make for painful reading. Fourteen penalties conceded by Munster to just six by Saracens. Sixteen turnovers conceded to 11 by Saracens, despite Foley’s men having three fewer minutes in active possession of the ball. Seven of those were dropped balls, of which Paul O’Connell’s three matched the entire Saracens team.
O’Connell is one of two Munster players to have played every minute of this European Cup campaign. To put his Saturday total of four turnovers in context, in last season’s semi-final run O’Connell conceded just five in eight games. In the first four pool matches this season? Two. To give the ball to the opposition four times in a must-win game will have hurt the legendary lock, but perhaps not as much as the abject team performance.
The efficiency and discipline that had played so large a part in that second half at Clermont deserted this Munster team. In the first season of a new competition that was born of money over tradition, this loss on a plastic pitch had more than a hint of symbolism. Memories of great and unlikely performances of old seemed very distant as Saracens set up a comfortable camp deep in Munster territory. Munster didn’t feed a single scrum or throw into a lineout in the Saracens 22. In contrast Mark McCall’s side had three and six respectively when in the Munster danger area.
Munster’s largest number of off-loads completed in any pool game has been seven, away to Clermont. They are the lowest off-loading team over the first five rounds with 18 completed, joined by Treviso, Ulster and Leinster in the bottom four. Toulon made 32 in hammering Ulster.
After putting 50 points on Castres, Leinster will have an extra zip in training this week after Toulouse’s home loss to Bath. A home quarter-final slot might now be in Matt O’Connor’s hands but they’ll have to get past an in-form Wasps team first.
In the history of the Heineken Cup, no team qualified for a quarter-final having lost their first two pool matches. Three runners-up from five pools is not the same as the two from six under the old system, but as round six comes around next week, both Wasps and Bath have put themselves in a position to break this hoodoo. History in the offing, perhaps at Leinster’s expense.
* Stats courtesy of OPTA
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