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O'Connor: Leicester second best to a Munster side who have their edge back

The Leicester head coach didn’t, however, want to talk about the officiating at Welford Road.

Leicester sit bottom of Pool 4 after four rounds.
Leicester sit bottom of Pool 4 after four rounds.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Ryan Bailey reports from Welford Road

THERE WERE no excuses, nor accusations, this week from Matt O’Connor just an acceptance that his side — now down and out in Europe — were out-played by a better team over the course of these back-to-back games.

Nobody can argue that Munster were the deserving winners both at Thomond Park and here at Welford Road, not even the Leicester Tigers head coach who must now pick his players up from two damaging defeats.

Indeed, it is the first time since the introduction of the two-legged December games 18 seasons ago that Leicester have suffered consecutive European defeats and that leaves their hopes of qualification in tatters.

“It’s an enormous blow, the guys are really disappointed,” O’Connor said post-match.

“We thought at the start of the season we could realistically have gotten out of this group, the reality of Champions Cup is you have to produce every day and we were second best to Munster across the two legs and as a result it’s near impossible to go through.”

Leicester knew today was must-win and certainly they came flying out of the blocks, bringing an intensity and physicality to the opening exchanges that we didn’t see last week but it was to soon work against them.

After drawing first blood through the boot of George Ford and then Matthew Tait’s try, Leicester were unable to assert any sort of control on the game and lost their way and discipline, eventually coughing up a series of penalties which Ian Keatley duly punished them for.

The hosts conceded 10 penalties during a fraught opening period — and 14 in total.

“It made it hard,” said O’Connor.

What did you make of the officiating, particularly in the first half?

“I’m not going to comment on the match officials at all. Not worth it.”

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Maybe he learned from last week. His team didn’t, though.

Matt O'Connor Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Dan Cole gave away five penalties before being eventually sin-binned on the stroke of half time and there were countless examples of Leicester players being reckless in their attempt to roughen Munster up and stamp their authority on the game.

But Munster had enough composure to maintain their shape and gameplan to grind out a momentous win for the province at a ground they hadn’t won at in 11 years.

O’Connor, the former Leinster coach, says Munster have their mojo back.

“They’ve had some time together, they’ve got their Munster edge back,” he said.

“They’d probably lost that. When I was at Leinster, they were in a bit of a rebuilding phase with Rob (Penney) and they didn’t really know what their identity was.

“They’ve gone back to their genuine DNA and they’re a hard team to break down. They’re incredibly committed and physical and well-drilled and they demonstrated it tonight.”

Are they genuine contenders?

“They’re always there or thereabouts, aren’t they? They’re in pole position now in the group, if they can get enough points to end up at Thomond [in the quarter-finals] they’re contenders for sure.”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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Ryan Bailey

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