MUNSTER COACH ROB Penney praised the ‘mental fortitude’ of out-half Ian Keatley after last night’s 7 – 20 win in Gloucester secured a quarter-final berth.
Keatley was roundly criticised after Munster’s loss to Ulster last week, a game in which his missed kicks proved costly.
Last night, Keatley put those troubles behind him, setting up Keith Earls first-half try with an accurate grubber kick while his one missed kick out of five attempts rebounded off the post.
“We have got a lot of faith in Ian,” said the Kiwi, “He was tremendous today, probably the best game he has had in the red jumper. He deserves all the plaudits that I hope he gets.
“He showed mental and physical fortitude out there. He tackled like a Trojan, and he put us in some really good places on the park.”
Keatley’s position in the Munster line-up is under constant scrutiny as the up-and-coming talent of JJ Hanrahan grabs the attention of supporters and piles the pressure to perform upon the Dubliner.
While Penney’s ‘Trojan’ praise was perhaps a tad misplaced (early stats indicate Keatley completed two of six attempted tackles), there could be no doubt that the number 10′s ability to put last week’s errors behind him to successfully kick his goals on this week’s trip.
Gloucester coach, Nigel Davies meanwhile, chose to single out man-of-the-match for praise after a game in which the visitors were required to defend for long periods.
“Paul O’Connell is phenomenal,” said Davies who would also commend his team on ‘setting a bar’ for intensity, commitment and work-rate in the defeat,
“There are certain characters in teams that have a huge influence and effect. It is not just his ability as a rugby player, it’s how he galvanises the team, and his sheer presence is a huge factor for Munster.”
Penney is more accustomed to viewing O’Connell’s influence at close quarters, yet didn’t need much prompting to echo the praise issued to the Ireland captain.
“Paul is just such an amazing character, and at this level of the game you wouldn’t want anyone else out there, really, guarding your ship.”
The win in Kingsholm, secured thanks to the tries from Earls and Peter O’Mahony as well as Keatley’s efforts from the boot, gave the southern province an unassailable six-point lead in Pool 6 and therefore guarantees them a place in the knock-out stages.