Stade Francais 27 Munster 7: No wonder throwing the towel in crossed Anthony Foley’s mind in the immediate aftermath of this awful, awful Munster performance.
A 27-7 mauling by an out-of-form Stade Francais side reduced to 14 men just before half-time was bad enough.
To actually concede two tries in the softest of manners when having the numerical advantage was nigh on unforgivable and the head coach cut a desolate figure as he fronted up to the media on Saturday night.
Three straight European defeats in a run of six losses in seven games across the Pro12 and Champions Cup have left Foley on the brink of despair and with good reason. Last season’s pool-stage exit had come at the hands of a cut-throat Saracens outfit in round five, on the back of home and away losses to Clermont Auvergne. That was a low. The manner of these latest defeats and the lack of fight shown at the weekend was far worse and way more worrying for Munster supporters clinging to the hope the hunt for further European glories was still possible.
The sight of their scrum being regularly marched backwards, the tackle area surrendered, the defence disintegrated and any glimpse of attacking play against a diminished Stade line blunted by error after howling error will have been enough to inform even the most diehard optimist in the province that the good old days aren’t coming back any time soon.
Sekou Macalou’s 67th minute try encapsulated the sorry story. The Parisian back row who was playing for the France U20s just last season, ran roughshod through Munster, evading the attentions of visiting captain CJ Stander and Ian Keatley in midfield, slipping Jack O’Donoghue and leaving Keith Earls on his backside with an explosive run to the tryline to send the undermanned hosts into an 18-0 lead, Morné Steyn adding the conversion to put the game beyond reach.
Munster could not stop Macalou then and they failed to halt Stade rediscovering the bravura that earned them the Top 14 title last season. Now they have to work out how to make the most of their second bite at the cherry because Stade still have to visit Thomond Park this Saturday as they now go in search of a quarter-final spot while Munster play out the first of two dead rubbers.
“You need to front up and that’s the thing we would have talked about this week,” Stander, one of the few who could leave Paris with head held high, said of next week’s challenge. “You have to front up, you can’t be scrummed back in a red jersey. I don’t think that has happened in a long time. We need to control that because it gives a guy like Morné chances to kick three points, six points, nine points or put them in the corner.
“It’s tough to get out of their again.” Foley once more defended his players and pointed to the early losses to injury of Andrew Conway, BJ Botha and Tommy Donnell inside the first 40 minutes but he had every right to feel let down.
“No. You look at a man there like CJ, he ran himself into the ground,” the head coach said. “There’s fellas out there, we made three substitutions in the first-half, Conway, Botha and Tommy O’Donnell, they’re big players – sometimes it goes for you, sometimes it goes against you. Nobody misses tackles on purpose or anything like that so, we came unstuck against a team that obviously have an opportunity to get out of this group.”
Well they do now. Munster allowed that to happen at their own expense and Foley is left to repeat the message he has been giving his players for the past six weeks as losses have been inflicted by Connacht, the Dragons, Leicester home and away, Leinster and now Stade. Be more ruthless, convert possession into points and land your kicks. The mantras have been falling on deaf ears which begged the question, were the messages not getting through or are his players simply not up to the task of executing them?
“I’ll be asking that same question this week. It’s the same issues as we go week to week. We need to score. In order to score you have to have possession in the right areas of the pitch and apply pressure on the opposition, otherwise it’s increasingly difficult and that is something in which we’ve come unstuck in recent times.”
Even the most patient of men may decide enough is enough when instructions are repeatedly ignored or failed to be acted upon. When will Foley’s patience snap and the head coach starts to say enough is enough.
“We’ve a good group of players, a good squad, now we need to start availing of that.” That has to start immediately, with a strong response from the men in red this Saturday lunchtime as Munster bid to start restoring some pride and prevent a fourth straight home defeat in Limerick.
“We’ve got to win. It’s not freebies here,” Foley said. “We’re playing at home and we’ve got to front up next week and make sure we do the best in the jersey.”
H Bonneval (J Plisson, 73); J Arias (J Danty, 50), W Vuidarvuwalu, P Williams, J Raisuqe; M Steyn, J Dupuy (J Tomas, 71); Z Taulafo (H Van der Merwe, 52), L Sempéré (L Panis, 47), P Alo Emile (R Slimani, 46); H Pyle, P Gabrillagues; S Macalou, S Nicolas (J Ross, 71), S Parisse – captain.
Raisuqe, 40mins Replacements not used: G Mostert.
A Conway (R O’Mahony, 9); K Earls, F Saili, R Scannell, S Zebo; I Keatley (D Hurley, 69), C Murray; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, BJ Botha (J Ryan, 11; M Sagario, 58); D Foley, M Chisholm (B Holland, 78); R Copeland, T O’Donnell (J O’Donoghue, 22-30 & 36), CJ Stander – captain.
Replacements not used:
N Scannell, T O’Leary.
Nigel Owens (Wales).
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