Simon Zebo can deliver on the big stage
The left wing was incredibly busy at Stade Velódrome, getting through nine tackles and making 11 carries, one of which ended with the only try of the game [why no TMO though?] Those numbers don’t reflect the quality of Zebo’s contributions, which were never anything less than decisive.
The Cork man has his critics, but if he can maintain this level of form over the closing weeks of the Pro12 season with his province, then a place on Ireland’s tour of Argentina will be thoroughly deserved. Doubts over Zebo’s ability to deliver in high-pressure situations were put to bed in Marseille.
Basic errors lose knock-out games
While the role of Toulon has to be acknowledged in deciding the outcome of this Heineken Cup semi-final, Munster’s reflection will be self-focused. That review will lead them back to their own preventable mistakes in key areas, especially during the first half.
At least six conceded points were directly attributable to errors after Toulon restarts, while several other handling faults at vital times sapped some of the momentum Munster had managed to build.
Game plans and grand tactical ideas are of course crucial to winning these narrow ties, but Munster will re-focus on the most basic of skills under Anthony Foley during the summer’s pre-season.
Ian Keatley continues to grow in maturity
On the most important day of their season, Munster’s out-half delivered perhaps his finest showing of the campaign. Some would have predicted that 2014 would be the year that JJ Hanrahan usurped Keatley in the 10 shirt, but the former’s entrance into the game at inside centre spoke volumes.
Keatley was superb in controlling Munster’s play, mixing intelligent kicks behind the Toulon defence with accurate passing and showing a willingness to engage with the French side’s heaviest carriers.
There was one miss alongside his four successes from the tee, but the watching Joe Schmidt would surely have been impressed by Keatley’s leadership.
Toulon’s formula is extremely effective
It could be argued that Bernard Laporte’s men were not at their very best [which they most certainly were against Leinster in the quarter-final], but there was still so much to enjoy in their display this afternoon.
While Munster scored the only try of the game, Toulon’s defence was largely suffocating. With Carl Hayman, Matt Giteau and Mathieu Bastareaud leading the way, the French side hungered for the collisions when Munster had the ball.
In attack, there were thrilling bursts of counter-attack from Toulon through the likes of Bryan Habana, even if Munster’s scramble defence often recovered well. The boot of Wilkinson remains as reliable as ever, meaning Saracens will need to reproduce their disciplined best in the final in Cardiff.
Munster’s final Heineken Cup game provides more memories
There has been something unique about Munster’s love affair with the Heineken Cup, and it ends with two successes to show for their unquestionable efforts. Watching the southern province in the European competition has never been anything less than exciting.
Against Toulon, Munster again showed their ability to raise their performance levels for the toughest Heineken Cup tests. The focus next season turns to the Rugby Champions Cup, but Rob Penney leaves the province in good shape to begin their efforts in that competition.