We needed a lift. Let’s be honest about it, with all the misery going round, we desperately needed some kind of respite. As if losing last week to Racing Metro wasn’t bad enough, we’re now reeling under the Merkelbot’s dismissive crushing of Enda’s hopes with the sort of Thatcherian Raus! Raus! Raus! the Iron Lady might have been proud of. Everything is heading south: our income, our house values, our spirits and our children, so a little bit of a lift was in order. After all, how could we face the rest of this year, including the looming Bludget, without some hope of qualifying for the European Cup?
There are those who say that Rob Penney’s open, expansive style of rugby doesn’t suit Munster, and it’s easy to see why. Even though Edinburgh were clearly inferior in every aspect of the game, they managed to hold the score to only 6-0 going in at half time, and that was despite losing in the lineout, losing in the scrum and losing in the ruck, not to mention constantly losing possession through silly, unforced errors. And yet, in a style of play where shirt-numbers mean nothing, where everyone takes on every role and where second-rows double as wingers, the statistics were clear: in the first half, Munster enjoyed 70% of the possession and spent most of the time inside the Edinburgh 22. Somehow, though, they couldn’t turn the advantage into points on the board.
Things picked up in the second half, with Conor Murray going over for a try, and partially making up for the disaster of a game he had last week against Racing. With Keatley’s conversion and another penalty, the score hit 16-0 and Edinburgh were going nowhere, but that was when Munster went back to basics. Somehow, with only ten minutes left on the clock, they got it into their heads that maybe they could score three more tries to secure a bonus point.
It’s a big ask, I informed my companions. Three tries in ten minutes? Hmm.
That’s exactly what happened, thanks largely to sheer aggression and muscle from the forwards, with Dougall, O’Mahony and Varley grabbing a try each as my companions laughed at me.
I don’t mind being laughed at when things go that well, but there’s work to be done, as Penney himself acknowledges. I think we can take a lot of hope out of this game. Today’s performance was at least encouraging, and while it wasn’t strong enough to frighten Saracens, the new wide game seems to suit the likes of Zebo, Howlett and Laulala very well indeed, while the old Munster qualities of doggedness in the pack remain alive and well.
It could turn out to be a winning combination if Penney can manage to tidy up the looseness on the ball, cut down the handling errors and perhaps consider replacing one or two players who served Munster well over the years but who might be ready to move on and make way for new blood.
There’s probably a good amount of mental adjustment required as the players come to terms with the new head coach’s systems, but the signs are promising with so many really young guys in the squad. Zebo, O Mahony, Kilcoyne, Dougall and Murray are all 23 or under. Keatley and Earls are only 25 while the old men of the squad, like Paul O Connell and Dougie Howlett are still world-class players.
I feel encouraged by this result, although I know that people will be wondering if Penney is going in the right direction or if he should be trying to rebuild the old Munster.