Edinburgh’s hopes of making next season’s Champions Cup in Europe took a dent with this shellacking by Munster yesterday evening.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Pen: Heathcote. Munster: Tries: Casey, Stander, Murray, Zebo, Earls. Cons: Keatley 3. Pen: Keatley.
Edinburgh are now down in eighth place, one point adrift of Scarlets and Connacht immediately above them with three league matches still to play. Munster take second spot off Ulster by dint of points difference.
Oddly enough this match was a close contest in the first half when Edinburgh took an early lead and were thoroughly competitive, but Munster squeezed the life out of them in the second 40 and ran in tries from all corners of the field. Edinburgh barely saw the ball in the second half and most of the play took place deep inside the home half.
The crowd showed their displeasure at the Welsh referee who surely made the odd duff decision, but the poor man can’t be held responsible for the lopsided score board.
This Edinburgh team no longer have the free-scoring ability to enable them to chase a game like this and their opening penalty of the match proved to be their only points on the night. So, has the scale of this defeat undermined the club’s fragile confidence with that key European Challenge Cup semi-final against Newport Gwent Dragons in just six days’ time?
“I don’t think so,” said the Edinburgh coach, Alan Solomons. “That shows that if we play a full-strength Munster team we have to be at full strength ourselves. We don’t have the depth of talent to compete with six players missing.
“I think the loss of [David] Denton in the 13th minute was massive for us, massive. That meant that we were fielding three openside flankers so our ability to compete at the lineout and stem their drive was seriously undermined.”
Certainly the visitors had their game face on from the off, horsing into the contacts and closing down Edinburgh’s time and space. Munster scored five tries in all, one in the first half and another four after the break. They were a bit hungrier, a bit slicker and they enjoyed an edge in both experience and sheer power on the pitch. The remainder of their points came from the reliable boot of Ian Keatley.
The home cause wasn’t helped by losing No.8 Denton with a bang to the head and by Tim Visser being consigned to the sin bin. Denton was replaced by Thomas Leonardi, who was hit by a truck on his very first carry and looked like he might follow Denton straight back to the sidelines. He was eventually replaced by Stuart McInally who, not for the first time, had to revert to his old post in the third row.
In the enforced absence of Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, his replacement at scrum-half Nathan Fowles made a very decent stand at nine despite giving the Edinburgh fans one fright when having a kick charged down. Generally he had an assured match and he showed great pace to snuff out one Munster break out with a superb backtracking tackle on Tommy O’Donnell.
Edinburgh enjoyed the whip hand at the scrums, with Alasdair Dickinson making life miserable for the former Springbok stalwart BJ Botha. Three times in the first half alone the home side won a straight arm penalty at the set scrum and had it happened again Botha may have enjoyed a stint on the naughty step.
Against that, Munster brought with them a mauling game that Edinburgh struggled to contain from the first minute to the last. The men in red caught and drove most of their lineouts, winning territory and penalties in abundance. Their dominance in this area led directly to Munster’s first try and two others beside.
Munster mauled an attacking lineout and won another penalty, although quite what for wasn’t obvious. They stuck the ball in the corner and marched the maul back in agonising slow motion until hooker Duncan Casey flopped gratefully over the Edinburgh line. After two early penalties, one to each team, Ian Keatley’s touchline conversion gave the visitors a 10-3 lead which they took into the half-time break.
The second half was just ten minutes old when Munster extended their lead in exactly the same way. Marching a five-metre lineout over the Edinburgh line, this time No.8 CJ Stander was the last man up.
Munster attacked from the restart, finding acres of space up the right flank and they should have had their third try. They didn’t have long to wait. Another lineout, another driving maul, only this time Munster scrum-half Conor Murray darted down the blindside, evading the tackle of Ross Ford to dab down in the corner.
Simon Zebo and Keith Earls finished off the scoring, both chasing down kicks, before the final whistle offered Edinburgh some relief.
Edinburgh: Tonks (Brown 68), Fife, Burleigh (Beard 55), Strauss, Visser; Heathcote, Fowles (Hart 55); Dickinson (Shiells 72), Ford, Nel (Andress 72), Bresler (McKenzie 51), Toolis, Grant, Watson, Denton (Leonardi 13)(McInally 51).
Munster: Jones, Earls, Smith, Hurley, Zebo; Keatley, Murray, Kilcoyle, Casey (Guinazu 60), Botha (Cronin 60), Holland, O’Connell, O’Mahony, O’Donnell, Stander.
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU). Attendance: 4,818.
Conor Murray celebrates his try – Munster’s third of five – on a disappointing night for Edinburgh. Photograph: Rob Casey/SNS Group/SRU