Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 7°C
# big issues
Costly mistakes, unhappy Munster fans and more Thomond Park talking points
Munster gave up three incredibly soft tries.

MUNSTER WERE BEATEN 31-19 by Leicester in Thomond Park in Pool 4 of the Champions Cup.

Read our match report here.

Soft scores

The thing that will rankle most of all for Munster after a depressing night in Limerick is that Leicester didn’t have to deliver a particularly special performance to earn an important European victory on the road.

A dejected Tomas O'Leary Cathal Noonan / INPHO Munster's own errors allowed the Tigers to claim a huge win. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

That is not to downplay the effort from Richard Cockerill’s men, but the three tries Munster conceded were beyond soft. Ben Young scooted around Robin Copeland and into a huge gap for their third, Mike Fitzgerald strolled onto Niall Scannell’s for the second and the first saw Ian Keatley missing a one-on-one tackle on Niki Goneva.

Whatever about Munster’s shortcomings elsewhere, three moments of implosion such as those meant Anthony Foley’s side were never going to win.

After Connacht tore Munster to shreds at times in their Pro12 win in Limerick and the Dragons found ways to expose them last weekend, their run of defensive errors continued against the Tigers.

Backs against the wall

Munster were hammered by Saracens in their final fixture of last season’s Champions Cup pools stages, but Anthony Foley always points to the home defeat to Clermont as the reason they failed to advance into the quarter-finals.

Simon Zebo and Dave Kilcoyne dejected after the game Morgan Treacy / INPHO Munster are in a poor position after a home defeat. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

He recalled that message once again earlier this week, underlying his belief that Munster needed to win all three of their home pool games if they are to advance into the knock-out stages.

Viewed in that light, this was a huge blow for the province, who now have to go to Welford Road next weekend and win. Leicester are likely to be better on home soil, although Munster will feel that if they can cut out the simple errors they have enough to win.

Still, it’s a mess of a situation for Foley’s men. Their previously exceptional home record is slowly becoming a memory rather than a reality.

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Who’s taking responsibility?

While Foley’s men did come bounding out of the blocks in the second half to suggest a memorable comeback might be on the cards, they were rudderless at other times.

Ian Keatley is tackled by Tom Youngs and Dan Cole Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

As they looked to claw their way into the contest, there was a notable absence of big plays, big moments of quality from big players. Without the likes of Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony and Tommy O’Donnell, Munster lacked characters capable of grabbing the momentum.

Ian Keatley at out-half endured one of his toughest nights in the red jersey, missing a penalty from in front of the posts, kicking poorly out of hand at times, and struggling to create openings when Munster got into the Leicester 22.

Captain CJ Stander was as effective as ever in his ball-carrying, leading the side in that department and doing damage to the Tigers’ defence. There were a handful of solid performances around him, but Munster need more players delivering result-influencing displays.

Unhappy support

While Munster stated an attendance figure of over 22,000, there didn’t appear to be that number inside Thomond Park for this massive European fixture. The empty seats and terrace spots tell a story of their own about where Munster are right now.

Munster players out early for the second half in a huddle Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Those who did come delivered a brilliant atmosphere for much of the game, as the volume crackled. Events on the pitch, however, saw that atmosphere fizz out to the extent that some fans headed for the exits before the game had even ended.

“Jesus, this is just a nightmare,” proclaimed one supporter during the second half, a sentiment that will be shared by many after this game. This version of Munster is a shadow of the squad that were kings of Europe in 2006 and 2008.

Perhaps the most painful moment of Keatley’s night was the moment the stadium announcer confirmed he was being replaced by Rory Scannell and some of the Thomond Park crowd cheered.

A portion of Munster’s fans are unhappy with the direction the province is heading in, with little sense of realistic optimism about their chances of being competitive in the short-term future. 

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