IF MANY Edinburgh supporters were shocked at seeing their side slide to a six-try thumping in Limerick yesterday, they were joined by their captain Greig Laidlaw, who appeared ashen-faced after the final whistle.
Following on from Glasgow’s defeat at home to Toulon, it provided a dispiriting end to the Heineken Cup for Scottish rugby. Edinburgh head coach Alan Solomons was his usual measured self, and said that his side’s defeat was relatively straightforward – the team fell off their recent improving standards and under-performed, leaving themselves vulnerable to a Munster side picking up its familiar Heineken Cup scent.
Laidlaw agreed. “We are obviously massively disappointed,” the captain said. “We felt we had a reasonable chance of going into the Amlin [quarter-finals], which would have been a good tournament for us, but we let ourselves down. We are disappointed with that, and with the manner of the defeat as well.
“We got off to a slow start – never a good idea away to Munster – but I felt in that middle period that we played well and started to claw our way into the game. We got a score on the board and some good field position.
“We got the yellow card before half-time, and then the try just after knocked the wind out of our sails. There was no recovery from there.
“I’m not going to take anything away from Munster. They played well and they won. But we are disappointed with our own performance today. We let ourselves down, we’ve let Alan [Solomons] and the boys down as well. It was just a poor performance and it’s tough to take because we had been progressing as the season went on.”
Solomons resisted criticising referee Wayne Barnes for his controversial decision to yellow card Cornell du Preez on the stroke of half-time for apparently recklessly driving into Paul O’Connell in the ruck, but was seething about it.
“Munster played incredibly well and they’re certainly going to be a challenger for the Heineken Cup this season,” he said.
“We didn’t perform well on the day. We turned over far too much ball, made far too many errors and gave away too many penalties and we were punished for that by a good side. It didn’t aid our cause to play 20 minutes with 14 men and that added to the mix, but we didn’t play particularly well, they did and they deserved the result.
“What concerned me a great deal was Cornell going off. That was a major point in the game. Obviously, they [match officials] felt that the clean-out constituted foul play. I will have to study the thing very carefully before I can comment on it, but that was a big decision and it had a major influence at that particular point. They went up 19-6 [in the time Du Preez was off] and…once those ten minutes were gone I think the game was pretty much gone as well.”
His opposite number, Rob Penney, agreed that it was an important call by Barnes, while O’Connell spoke of suffering a “stinger” on his arm after taking the force of Du Preez’s challenge, but neither was prepared to say they thought it was legitimate.
Penney praised Edinburgh but criticised Murrayfield in admitting that he did feel an element of revenge for the 29-23 opening pool loss in the Scottish capital.
“We were focused on getting the job done this week in a really professional way,” he said. “I think you [Irish media] underestimate Edinburgh, but – and I haven’t mentioned this until now – the field up there [Murrayfield] is atrocious. You just don’t have an ability to play and teams have gone up there and been stung by the fact that the ground there is so bad. I was really excited to get them on a firm track and I thought the proof was in the pudding. We dominated in the scrum and didn’t always get the rewards, and the tries are a good reflection on the attack, which doesn’t get much credit.
“This was a more complete performance from a team getting better and better all the time, and more confident.
“I’m just so pleased for the lads that they’re able to come away from what could have been a potential disaster at Edinburgh and win five in a row and get themselves into the top four of the championship.
“No mean feat really.”
For Solomons, it is back to three weeks of training, preparing for a Six Nations period in which they play five RaboDirect PRO12 games without their Scotland internationalists. He remains confident the squad will not take much time to recover from this setback.
“No. When you play against a good side and you’re off your game you will take a hiding. I’ve said to the players, ‘you’ve just learned a valuable lesson – if we’re 10-15 per cent off our game against a quality side on their game you’re going to take a beating’.
“There’s no doubt that every time you sustain a loss and particularly when you’re beaten well it’s a knock, but if you look back we went down by a similar margin to the Ospreys and to Ulster and we bounced back.
“It’s a one-off and you have to see it in context. It’s a knock to our self-esteem but there’s no reason for it to affect us. The odds were heavily against us at Thomond Park against a Munster side playing for a home quarter-final.
“They are a team well along the path as far as their development is concerned. We started our rebuilding process five months ago so we’re not in the same space to be honest. I’d have liked to have performed better and I’d have liked us not to get any yellow cards, but sometimes the best lessons are those learned in adversity.”
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE