IAN KEATLEY MAY reflect on Munster’s Heineken Cup semi-final defeat to Toulon as a bittersweet moment in years to come.
While the only feeling at present will be one of dismay at exiting the European competition, the 27-year-old should eventually look back on his individual performance with pride.
This was among the out-half’s most mature displays for the province, with his varied kicking out of hand complementing a passing game that functioned smoothly. His restarts were superb, while he was always willing to make a physical impact on the game too.
However, in the immediate aftermath of the game, the Munster playmaker was simply devastated, as he told Sky Sports.
“Just absolutely gutted. You train all year for this and put yourself in with a chance of winning and you don’t manage to come through in the end.
We didn’t do all the things that we said we would do. We gave them a few penalties and easy-outs. When they kicked off to us, we didn’t exit well. I think we managed to give away six or nine points just from not getting out of our danger area.
“They kept the scoreboard ticking over with Jonny [Wilkinson]. We knew he was going to be immense with the boot and he was, again.”
Simon Zebo’s second-half try gave Munster a burst of fresh confidence when it had seemed like the game might slip away from them, but Keatley pointed to the importance of a defensive action shortly prior to that score.
“We did get back into it in the second half. I think it was a turning point when Zeebs did unbelievably well to make that try-saving tackle in the corner. We got out of there and we scored a try to get back into the game.
“One or two more individual mistakes and that goes so quick. They’re turning points. We didn’t really know if he [Steffon Armitage] had scored or not. It is a blow if he scores it, but on the flip side, Zeebs makes an unbelievable tackle and it give us a bit more hope.
They’re those little things in semifinals that win or lose it for you. We put ourselves in with a chance of winning it and then maybe the yellow card for us turns it back in their favour.”
Before heading back to the Munster dressing room to lick his wounds, Keatley had the class to share his gratitude with the province’s excellent travelling support.
“On behalf of all the lads, thanks to all the fans who came over today. They were unbelievable, the best travelling support. We couldn’t have done it without them today and we’re sorry we let them down.”