THERE was a lot of disappointment in our group in the aftermath of Saturday’s defeat by Toulouse in the European Rugby Champions Cup, after a performance which we put so much effort into but just came up short.
But what is vital is that we learn from the experiences we have been through over the last fortnight in the two meetings with them and make sure we make the most of these as we continue to grow as a club.
There is no doubt that the Toulouse game was decided by very fine margins and the team that seized their opportunities ended up winning.
Frustratingly, despite the fact that, for the second week running, we spent a lot more time in the Toulouse 22 than they did in ours, we ultimately could not translate those opportunities into points. When you take into account that there were only two tries scored over the two games, it was clear that they were two excellent defences on show, and the effort from both sides was of a high standard.
On a personal note, I have had time to reflect on Saturday’s defeat and, in particular, one passage of play which took place seven minutes from full-time.
Hindsight is, obviously a wonderful thing, but I made a call for us to take a penalty that reduced the deficit against Toulouse to three points rather than kick for the corner. At the time, I believed that, if we took the three points, with seven minutes left we had the time to get back deep into Toulouse territory and gain another penalty to claim the draw or perhaps force something more.
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We had real momentum at that stage of the match and I was convinced that we would be back in the scoring zone at least one more time in the match. Ultimately, we weren’t able to score more points and ended up losing 12-9.
Given the same circumstances in the future I believe that the better decision would be to kick for the corner and look to score a try. We must remain true to our identity and that is playing to win.
We are so proud of our players and the relentless effort they put in at training and during games, and how they have a fearless approach no matter the opposition. Our job as coaches is to make sure we allow this mindset to express itself as much as possible by going out to attack teams, taking the initiative whenever possible and playing with ambition.
Armed with this learning, our focus has moved on to Saturday’s game in the Guinness Pro12 with a Munster side who had similar results against another of the French Top 14’s top sides in Clermont Auvergne, as we suffered against the rouge et noir.
With Munster sitting at the top of the table and ourselves just a point behind them this is a huge game for both sides, and doubly so after our respective disappointments in Europe and I have no doubt that we are in for a cracking game of rugby.
Our recent games with Munster have provided some great rugby and both teams have had their successes. In the first game of last season, Munster ended our winning start to the season, with a 13-6 victory before we managed to reverse this result with a 22-5 victory at Thomond Park, which is one of the best performances the squad have delivered in the past three seasons.
And then there was our last meeting with Munster, which came in the Pro12 play-off semi-final, at a sell-out Scotstoun back on an unforgettable night in May, which we edged 16-15 to make our first-ever major final.
Munster are always incredibly tough opponents and have once again been in fine form so far this season. With Anthony Foley having replaced Rob Penney in the summer, they have also changed the way they play.
Gone is the wide-wide pod system that Penney had brought over from his time with Canterbury – now they have returned to their traditional methods of hitting the gain line hard, getting immediate support to the ball carrier and looking for physicality in the contact area.
This has brought them rewards both in the Guinness Pro12 and against Saracens in the Champions Cup. It was interesting to watch them perform against Clermont over the past two weekends and how much they adapted their game plan to pressurise their opposition.
In their home game with the French side, Munster were direct and really got players on to the gain line as they looked to produce quick ball from winning these collisions. A week later, over in France, they shifted the point of attack and played with two first receivers in the shape of Ian Keatley and JJ Hanrahan. The introduction of the latter was very influential, and the increased width in their attack caused Clermont a lot of trouble.
As a result, our preparation for Saturday’s game has involved making sure we are ready for whichever Munster side takes to the field in 48 hours’ time.
But the one thing we do know is that Munster will be very strong in the set-piece both at the scrum and in the line-out, while Paul O’Connell seems to be playing as well as ever in the heart of their uncompromising pack.
But, while it’s valuable to be cognisant of the strengths of Munster, what is more important is how we impose our game on them by playing to our strengths and delivering an 80-minute performance.
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