THE end of the season cannot come quickly enough for Alan Solomons and his creaking squad. Unfortunately they still have one giant obstacle to negotiate their way past before getting a chance to regroup and regenerate with league leaders Leinster lying in wait at the Royal Dublin Showground next Saturday night.
It will be the last game in Edinburgh colours for a raft of players (most notably captain and talisman Greig Laidlaw), which will hopefully provide an energy within the squad which their weary bodies could not muster on Saturday afternoon, otherwise they face being given an even greater mauling against the league’s top side.
“We ran out of steam, fell off far too many tackles and took a pasting. We were not conditioned to play the type of rugby we wanted to play throughout the season and these last eight games have taken their toll,” admitted Solomons after watching his team concede seven tries – including two penalty scores – to slump to their heaviest defeat since he arrived at the club last August. “They showed a lot of character and heart against Glasgow, but that was a derby. They are battling, there is no doubt about that, but they are tired, tired guys, and it is going to get harder next week because Leinster have got an edge on Munster when it comes to attack.
“They have some absolutely outstanding backs and if they are given licence we are going to have a problem,” he added. “I’m disappointed because I think Greig has made a huge contribution to Edinburgh Rugby and this was his last home game, but it is important for us to keep our heads up and show resilience in our last game.
“We’ve got to look at how we run this week and try to keep them as fresh as possible because practice is not going to make a mammoth amount of difference at this point.”
One player likely to be rested next week is Cornell du Preez.
He has been a stand-out performer for the club since his arrival last November, but his gas tank is clearly running on vapours now after playing back-to-back seasons in the southern then northern hemispheres – and he was replaced after 56 minutes of this match.
“Cornell says that he is fine but I am getting to the view that he is really struggling now,” said Solomons, before listing the options he has in the back-row if Du Preez is given the week off.
“Dimitri [Basilaia] is now fit, Tomas [Leonardi] is up and playing again, we still have Dave Denton to move into the back-row if Izak [van der Westhuizen] is fit to play, and hopefully Hamish [Watson] will recover from the injury he picked up last week in the Sevens – so we have to look at all those options.
“We have to get the freshest side onto the field in the freshest state of mind.”
Edinburgh started brightly enough and were still very much in the game after 39 minutes thanks to tries by Carl Bezuidenhout and Willem Nel.
The score was 12-13 to Munster and the hosts could easily have been looking at a half-time lead had some rather weak tackling not allowed Andrew Conway to streak over in the 16th minute.
Then, deep into injury time of the first half, Jack Cuthbert and Tim Visser both kicked the ball down Munster’s throat which allowed the pressure to build until breaking point – with Denis Hurley shrugging off two more weak tackles to score under the posts, and all of a sudden the writing seemed to be on the wall for Edinburgh.
The hosts continued to make life hard for themselves after the break, by fumbling possession during an attempted breakout from behind their own line, which gifted Munster the platform from which Damien Varley rumbled over for try number three.
The bonus point was sealed with a penalty try for a collapsed scrum; then replacement scrum-half Duncan Williams got in on the act; before a second penalty try was awarded against Grant Gilchrist for preventing a near certain score with a deliberate knock-on.
The big lock was also sin-binned for this misdemeanour. Munster brought up the half-century in the last play of the match when Tommy O’Donnell squeezed over in the corner.
When Solomons first peddled this line about his players running out of steam as they are poorly conditioned, it was greeted with a fair degree of cynicism by the wider rugby public – but one glance at David Denton as he slumped into a plastic seat at the back of the Meggetland stand after Saturday’s defeat and it is clear the season has taken its toll. He is clearly knackered, but the 24-year-old insisted that he is not despondent about the medium to long-term outlook at the club.
“It is hard for us not to be slightly concerned but it is a stupid emotion for us to have. Although it is understandable we must not forget what we have done this season,” he said.
“There was a transition period at the start, then we had a very good patch in the middle when we beat Munster and Leinster at home plus Gloucester away, but because the coaches have not had the players they wanted and we all had to play so much rugby you can see that by the end of the season it is not in our legs anymore.
“If you look at a team like Glasgow who have been building for the last five years, they can rotate every week and the players are so fresh.
“It is an awesome luxury to have and it is something they are trying to get in place for us next season.’
“I want to do as much as I can to bring this club forward. A huge reason for me re-signing with Edinburgh was that I wanted to be part of the change.
“We have completely changed the way this team is playing. In the last two weeks we have been playing a lot more attacking rugby – potentially in the second half we played too much and we don’t want to be attacking from our own line.’
Scorers: Edinburgh: Try: Bezuidenhout, Nel; Con: Laidlaw. Munster: Tries: Conway, Hurley, Varley, Penalty Try 2, Williams, O’Donnell; Cons: Hanrahan 5, Murray 2; Pen: Hanrahan 2.
Edinburgh: J Cuthbert; T Brown (S Beard 23), M Scott, A Strauss (P Francis 72), T Visser; C Bezuidenhout, G Laidlaw (G Hart 69); A Dickinson (W Blaauw 67), R Ford (H Hilterbrand 55), W Nel, G Gilchrist, D Denton, M Coman (B Toolis 69), T Leonardi, C Du Preez (D Basilaia 55).
Munster: S Zebo; G van den Heever, J Murphy, D Hurley, A Conway (L O’Dea 40); J Hanrahan (I Keatley 69), C Murray (D Williams 56); J Cronin, D Casey (D Varley 29), J Ryan (A Cotter 77), D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell (D Foley 57), C Stander (J Coughlan 67), T O’Donnell, P Butler.