Munster head coach Rob Penney is heading into 2013 optimistic that the steep learning curve he has given his players to negotiate will start to pay dividends.
After victory over a weakened Ulster side at Thomond Park on Saturday, that Penney described as “the best of us and the worst of us tied up in one match”, the New Zealander closes the year with his team lying third in the Pro12 and needing two bonus-point wins in Europe in January to secure a Heineken Cup quarter-final spot.
“I’m pretty optimistic about the way the group is travelling and I think we can head into the new year in a really positive place mentally which is very pleasing,” said Penney, who took charge of Munster last summer.
“But there’s still a lot of work to do and the last thing we want to do is sit back and rest on our laurels.”
Munster brought Ulster’s 11-game winning start to the Rabo campaign to an end in Limerick but it was against a visiting side featuring just one player, Roger Wilson, who saw Heineken Cup duty in the previous two rounds this month.
Ulster coach Mark Anscombe emerged from defeat with his team still nine points clear of Scarlets at the top of the Pro12 and he was encouraged by the performances of his fringe players.
“We got beaten by a better team but the guys showed a lot of character to hang in,” Anscombe said.
“For a young team I was pretty pleased with the way they finished and they didn’t allow Munster to score in the last 25 minutes and for us to pick up that try at the end was a little reward for their hard work.”
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