Rob Penney believes Munster can still qualify for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals despite yesterday’s bitterly disappointing loss to Saracens in Watford.
The visitors, who were roared on by a huge support, led shortly after half-time but were pegged back by three Owen Farrell penalties as Saracens won 19-13.
Munster must now win their final two games, against Edinburgh and Racing Metro, and hope other results go their way if they are to top Pool 1.
Yet two bonus-point victories could be enough to secure a place in the last eight as one of the best runners-up, and Penney is convinced his team have the character and quality to ensure they do not suffer the same early exit as they did two seasons ago.
“We can still get 10 more points, and who knows what will happen in the next two games,” said Penney.
“There are still two games left, and I am very optimistic that the group of boys we have will put themselves in the best possible place to qualify.
“We came here to get a result. We are very proud of the boys’ performance, effort and the energy they put in. It was a really tight fixture, and this game was always going to be like that.
“There were critical moments and they capitalised on them. It is a double-edged feeling – I can’t commend the lads highly enough for their endeavour, and it’s just disappointing not to come away with the result.
“What allowed them to pull away late on? Two penalties in our 22. They kicked two at crucial times. In tight matches it is as simple as that.
“We were in good shape but they were really disciplined in their 22 and kicked out well. We weren’t as accurate as we might have been, but at times we were brilliant. There were tiny little moments, little errors, and in tight games that can be so costly.”
And Penney insisted the loss of Dave Kilcoyne on the day of the game through illness did not have an impact – pointing instead to the loss of Felix Jones after just 20 minutes as a greater factor in the loss.
The full-back has a thigh injury, and the defensive reshuffle caused by his departure allowed Saracens score their only try of the match as David Strettle raced onto a Richard Wigglesworth kick in the space Jones had just vacated.
And Simon Zebo has told his team-mates they have no choice but to go out with all guns blazing against Edinburgh and Racing if they are to keep their hopes alive. With Munster struggling to get the ball wide due to the narrowness of the Vicarage Road pitch, scoring opportunities were at a premium – and Munster’s try came from an interception by James Downey, who sent Doug Howlett in to score – but they will almost certainly have to pick up bonus points in their final two games.
“It’s all-or-nothing in the next two games,” said the Ireland international. “It’s still in our control, and we still believe that we can get out of the group.
“We wanted to come away with a win today but not many can put on a show like we did. I was very proud of the lads and thought we did very well. But we left one or two scores out there, and we are majorly disappointed.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved