Munster were beaten today by a team with heart and determination but ultimately the game was decided by the number of mistakes.
There was only one penalty in the entire first half, which gave Biarritz 3 points against 7 for Earls’s try, but two minutes into the second half, Flannery was at his old tricks, whipping the legs from under a Biarritz player, and Yachvili made it 6-7. That was it until the last 15 minutes when Munster errors gave Biarritz four kicking chances and Yachvili slotted all of them, making the final score 18-7.
They murdered our scrum, and in the lineout they lived on the edge of the law, just as Munster would do if they got away with it. Tony Buckley’s replacement for John Hayes if anything made matters worse, and Stringer came on for O’Leary too late to make any difference, though we needed his speed and his punch. We missed Paul O Connell badly, both in the scrum and the lineout, but also in his leadership, and as feared, the absence of Howlett and Dowling made us vulnerable in the corners as well as forcing Mafi out to the wing where he isn’t comfortable. The whole three-quarter line was out of shape from the start, but you could always say that’s because Munster lack the strength in depth to cope with injuries. De Villiers, I’m afraid, failed to deliver the killer punch he was recruited for, and spent most of the game invisible.
On the other hand, look at Harinordoquy, who played the entire game with a protective mask around his face, and who seemed to play the second half with a broken rib. We’d take him any time if he’d sign up. What a player. We’d also take Yachvili, who fired everything on target.
I think that might be it for a while. This Munster squad is getting old and I can’t see Hayes or Quinlan now winning another Heineken Cup. Apart from them, David Wallace is 33 and so is ROG, while Marcus Horan is 32 and Jerry Flannery is 31. I know they’re not ready for the bath chairs and the Complan yet, but this team is ageing and looks elderly compared to the top European sides.
It’s probably time for team-building now, and Munster’s management will regret the loss of revenue they might have expected from a Cup Final appearance. Without that, they’ll find it harder to rebuild a winning squad. I”m not saying the glory days are over, but we’ll need to bring on the young guys, as well as finding replacements for the likes of Howlett, who has been a wonderful servant, and de Villiers, who was more disappointing.