Steve Haag Sports/INPHO Sharks out-half Curwin Bosch breaks away in Durban.
# Turned Over
Munster's self-inflicted wounds will hurt most after shipping 50 in Durban
Out of the Champions Cup, Munster now face another tough trip to South Africa in the URC.

SURELY, ONE THOUGHT, Munster would be able to address the glaring issues having had the half-time break to figure out a plan to put them right.

Surely, you presumed, the breakdown work and discipline would be better early in the second half.

The visitors needed to be energetic and accurate in the third quarter, but they looked physically spent as they emerged from the interval. It was a worrying sign and indicated that Munster were struggling with the 25°C heat and overbearing humidity in Durban.

They had managed to survive the first half and trailed the Sharks by only three points at 17-14, despite having invited the South Africans into promising positions too many times.

That made it all the more jarring to see how the opening minutes of the second half unfolded. It all resulted in a 50-35 defeat to end Munster’s Champions Cup campaign.

Soon after the second half got underway, Munster had an attacking chance in Sharks territory but yet again, were turned over at the breakdown as Springboks hooker Bongi Mbonambi pounced.

Three Munster maul penalties concessions followed in quick succession and while the first of them was tough on Jean Kleyn, it was the continuation of a trend. The third of those penalties saw referee Wayne Barnes play advantage and the powerful Sharks packed marched to a dominant maul try finished by Mbonambi.

Another warning for Munster to tighten up their breakdown and discipline but instead the pattern simply repeated itself.

Two minutes later, Munster prop Dave Kilcoyne was isolated in the carry, the turnover followed, the Sharks cleverly kicked deep, and the retreating Malakai Fekitoa was turned over in his own 22. Munster conceded another penalty. Into the corner the hosts went and Mbonambi had another maul score.

The game was essentially over with 30 minutes left and the Sharks were even able to waste a remarkably clear try-scoring chance as out-half Curwin Bosch committed criminal butchery, but the floodgates had opened.

Munster were soon watching the flowing locks of indomitable Sharks wing Werner Kok from behind as he scorched away to score, with Bosch next up off a loose pass by Calvin Nash, who was good otherwise, and then Makazole Mapimpi followed with a breakaway score from Fekitoa’s wayward offload.

werner-kok-makes-a-break Steve Haag Sports / INPHO Werner Kok scored in the second half. Steve Haag Sports / INPHO / INPHO

This was ugly stuff for Munster fans to watch as their side shipped 50 points in Durban.

The pitch at King’s Park was in awful condition, with players regularly slipping over, and Munster struggled to put a foot right after a first half in which they had stayed in the fight despite the ominous signs of the Sharks’ power at the set-piece, both scrum and maul.

Munster knew the South Africans are lethal on turnover possession too, but they repeatedly gave them opportunities to show those exact strengths.

This was a chastening day for Munster’s players and the coaching team headed up by Graham Rowntree. There have been real signs of growth and development in Munster this season as they have completely ripped up the style of rugby preferred by former boss Johann van Graan. Munster must keep the faith in going with that more ambitious brand, which will take longer than one season to perfect. They’re on the right path.

But in fairness to van Graan, Munster didn’t have many days as bad as this during his time in charge.

Consolation tries from Diarmuid Barron, Mike Haley, and Fineen Wycherley put some gloss on the scoreline but it still makes for difficult reading from Munster’s perspective. 

The Sharks have shown that despite their star-studded team sheets, they can wilt under pressure from disciplined, focused, clinical teams. Neil Powell’s men deserve major credit for the quality of their performance today, the power of their pack and the ruthlessness of their backs.

But the reality is that many of Munster’s wounds were self-inflicted. That’s what is likely to hurt Rowntree’s men most.

shane-daly-celebrates-with-mike-haley-after-scoring Fred Porcu / INPHO Munster will be back in South Africa soon. Fred Porcu / INPHO / INPHO

He and his coaching team of Mike Prendergast, Denis Leamy, and Andi Kyriacou must urgently figure out why Munster have now delivered back-to-back poor performances at a time of the season when sides need to be moving toward their peak.

Munster had hoped last weekend’s defeat to Glasgow at Thomond Park in the URC was just a blip but now it has been repeated. Let’s not forget that they also nearly gave up a big winning position against Scarlets in Cork early last month.

There are two huge tests ahead of Munster in the league too. They will fly home from Durban licking their wounds but they’re back in South Africa soon, with visits to the Stormers and the Sharks to come in their final two regular-season URC games.

Munster are currently fifth in the table but with their Champions Cup season now over, they need to arrest their slide or they could even miss out on the URC play-offs and Champions Cup qualification for next season.

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