THIS was far from the dress rehearsal coach Declan Kidney and his players would have wanted a fortnight before taking on Toulouse in the final of the Heineken Cup.
But at least it passed without serious injury worries, and now they can all concentrate on the big day in Cardiff.
Some may point to strangely contrasting decisions by the television match official Trevor Collins to explain away Saturday night’s 21-18 defeat by Glasgow in Munster’s final Magners League match of the season at Musgrave Park.
In truth, Collins, ironically enough a member of the Munster Association of Referees, had sound reasons for the calls that denied the home side a try because of obstruction, while allowing the visitors a score in relatively similar circumstances.
Essentially, this was the difference between the sides on the scoreboard. But all connected with Munster are only too aware that a repeat of this sloppy performance and one or two others in recent times will quickly put an end to the dreams of a second European triumph on Saturday week.
“We’re very disappointed and losing this match at home is not what we wanted,” conceded Kidney. “We have to give credit to Glasgow, they took their chances well and played smart rugby. We showed a different level of urgency in the last 10 minutes that we didn’t show for the first 70. We need to take a look at that, we can’t wait until a game is dying out, and must pick it up from the very start.
“We had a fair bit of possession at the start, but we weren’t back into shape quickly enough,” said Kidney. “It’s always easier to get up and go to work after a win rather than a loss but then sometimes you learn more after a loss. We have two weeks now to the next game. We’ll go about our business next week and look at Toulouse the following week.”
Munster gave away 14 needless and unanswered points in the first 23 minutes and it’s not easy to recover from such a deficit, especially against a committed Glasgow side who clearly and understandably regarded it as a feather in their cap to put one over on the European Cup finalists in their own backyard.
“We worked our way to within a point of them at half time and then came that try against us in the second half, and in fairness to Dan Parks, he kicked everything, three conversions from the touchline. That was the difference,” said Kidney. “Decisions are what they are. I’ve always taken a view that we can only work on what’s in our control and that’s what we will look to do.”
The disallowing by TMO Trevor Collins of a try by David Wallace for obstruction and the granting of another to Glasgow wing Thom Evans in a move that contained an even more obvious infringement was a major source of debate in the aftermath of Munster’s third home setback of the campaign. While both calls can be technically justified, the TMO’s area of influence remains a grey area and badly needs to be looked at.
Nevertheless, Munster players and officials are invariably honest in their assessment of a performance and Anthony Foley, leading the side in what will probably be his last game for the province, accepted that they will have to do a whole lot better to have any chance of beating Toulouse.
“When it’s put up to us, we react, but we’ve got to get away from that and put pressure on teams and start building a scoreline,” he stressed. “For the past couple of weeks, we seem to have been reacting to what’s going on. At times, I think we’re trying to play too much. Maybe we need to be putting it behind the opposition and putting them under pressure to get out of their own half and not keeping the onus on ourselves to keep playing ball in our own half and not making stupid mistakes, myself included. That’s just giving away soft tries. We did that against Ulster last week and we can’t keep doing that and hope to win games. Giving teams a 14-point start without them having to work for it is very disappointing.”
Foley was referring to a mix-up between himself and Ian Dowling that led to the second of Glasgow’s tries, scored by hooker Dougie Hall. Earlier, a turnover and a favourable bounce led to another score for winger Lome Fa’tau and with Dan Parks converting both, Glasgow found themselves in a dominant position.
Spurred on by a crowd of about 5,000, Munster finally came to life and appropriately enough it was Foley who opened their account, after a clever switch to the blind side by Peter Stringer. Ronan O’Gara converted from the edge of touch and banged over a couple of penalties to leave Munster only a single point, 14-13, in arrears at the interval. Foley departed on 48 minutes to his second standing ovation of an emotional evening but even the fresh legs of David Wallace, Donncha O’Callaghan, Marcus Horan and Denis Leamy failed to generate the impetus to complete the revival. Instead, Evans went over for his controversial try, that Parks converted. Munster did manage a Paul O’Connell try in response, converted by Paul Warwick.
“It was a nostalgic night and a tough couple of days for me,” Foley acknowledged. “But you manage to get your head around it. You move on and we have a Heineken Cup final to prepare for and our focus will be on that and nothing else matters aside from that 80 minutes. Deccie has his own decisions to make and whether I’m in the 22 or not, I’ll accept my fate. It’s a case of getting the best 22 out there and making sure we can beat Toulouse.”
MUNSTER: D. Hurley; A. Horgan, L. Mafi, R. Tipoki, I. Dowling; R. O’Gara, P. Stringer; F. Pucciariello, F. Sheahan, J. Hayes, M. O’Driscoll, P. O’Connell, D. Ryan, A. Quinlan, A. Foley (capt).
Replacements: K. Earls for Mafi (40); D. Wallace for Foley (48); M. Horan for Pucciariello (56); T. Buckley for Hayes (56); P. Warwick, D. Leamy and D. O’Callaghan for O’Gara, Ryan and O’Driscoll (66).
GLASGOW: B. Stortoni; L. Fa’tau, M. Evans, A. Henderson, T. Evans; D. Parks, C. Gregor; J. Va’a, D. Hall, M. Low, P. Palepol, D. Turner, K. Brown, J. Barclay, J. Beattie.
Replacements: K. Tkachuk for Low (30); G. Morrison and F. Thomson for Henderson and Hall (half time); J. Eddie for Brown (60); S. Pinder for Gregor (70).
Referee: J. Jones (Wales).
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