“WE COULDN’T CONTROL possession well enough, we made too many errors. We were thinking we were finishing over the top of them but it just wasn’t to be.”
Munster’s performance, in their 24-16 loss to Toulon, checked all the boxes for heart, commitment, bravery and resilience. They came up short, however, and will rue the litany of errors that cost them a place in their fifth Heineken Cup final.
Donncha O’Callaghan summed up the mood, 24 hours after his side’s elimination, as he remarked, “You don’t mind if a team thumps you out the gate and you can come away saying ‘They were really good’. It’s when you make mistakes yourself, and when it lands on your own doorstep, it is harder to take.”
While every rugby game is littered with moments of genius, mistakes, dubious calls and 30 players doing 95% of their duties right, there were several Munster errors in the semi-final that stand out as key.
1. Early penalties against Dave Kilcoyne
‘Killer’ versus Carl Hayman was always going to be a fascinating contest. While the Munster loose-head got the better of the New Zealander as match wore on, he conceded a couple of crucial penalties to give Jonny Wilkinson shots at the sticks and put his team on the back foot. English referee Wayne Barnes was not happy with Kilcoyne’s angle of entry and was not slow in penalising him.
2. Murray’s high tackle
3-3 after 17 minutes and Conor Murray got too high in dragging opposite number, Sebastien Tillous-Borde, to the ground. The call may have been slightly harsh by Barnes but Murray should not have given him reason to ponder. As the heart rates settled, Wilkinson edged his team ahead.
3. Not claiming restarts
Twice in the first-half did Munster’s restart spillages cost them points. Ian Keatley popped over a 30th minute penalty but Munster fumbled the Toulon kick-off. Seconds later and Jonny Wilkinson was hurtling over a drop goal. Five minutes later and it was like an action replay only with the English out-half knocking over another punishing penalty.
4. Earls meets Bastareaud, Armitage doesn’t miss
With 90 seconds to go to half-time Munster had a scrum on halfway. They opted to attack, hoping to force another score that would reduce the 15-9 deficit. Play spread out to Keith Earls’ on the right wing and, feeling somewhat isolated, he cut inside. He was unfortunate to meet Mathieu Bastareaud. With Bryan Habana weighing in, and Munster not clearing out, Earls was penalised for holding on.
Delon Armitage stepped up and flighted over a 55m penalty to make it 18-9 at the break. It was an added blow to Munster after their battling endeavours over the opening 40.
5. Earls’ yellow card
Believing David Smith to be clear for a simple try, up the left wing, after James Downey was turned over, Earls hauled the Australian down. It earned the Limerick man an instant yellow card and, with Casey Laulala in close proximity, was a hasty decision. Jonny Wilkinson compounded the binning with his sixth penalty.
6. Not going for the penalty on 70 minutes
JJ Hanrahan’s grubber-kick caused Delon Armitage to toss a sloppy pass to Drew Mitchell, who was forced to hastily clear. Munster were awarded a penalty as Jocelino Suta tackled Paul O’Connell, the Munster line-out jumper, in the air. O’Connell and captain Damien Varley consulted briefly before Keatley, inside the 22, was instructed to kick for the line rather than take the points.
7. The knock-on 5m out on 72 minutes
Munster claimed the resulting 5m line-out and mauled but went wide rather too briskly after CJ Stander peeled off and went to ground. Three phases after the flanker hit the deck, Murray looked for Laulala on the charge but he knocked on and Toulon hacked forward. Munster would not get beyond the Toulon 10m line again until the 79th minute. By then, it was too late.
8. Donncha goes planking and the final nail is driven in
With Munster desperately scrapping away for possession and a final assault on Toulon, Donncha O’Callaghan attempted a choke tackle before a heap of bodies crashed to the floor. Instead of attempting a roll away, the lock competed for the ball. Barnes called penalty and Wilkinson delivered the last rights.
Here are the some of the match highlights:
What do you think they key moment of Sunday’s match was?