Spirited Edinburgh banish Irish ghosts

Edinburgh won in Ireland for only the second time in 24 attempts as Munster lost for the third consecutive time at their famed Thomond Park fortress, a first in the professional era, writes Iain Morrison.

Tom Heathcote in action for Edinburgh. Picture: SNS

Edinburgh were the better team by 20 points and the fact that they won by one suggests that the ghosts of Munstermen past were in the stadium urging the current crop of players to emulate their feats; the spirits were willing but the flesh was weak.

It also suggests that the Welsh whistler Leighton Hodges was refereeing what he expected to see rather than what he witnessed, which is why top teams so often get the 50/50 calls. The set scrum was one good example.

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Hodges awarded Edinburgh a penalty at the very first scrum and another at the very last but in between times he awarded at least three kicks to the Munster scrum that had the consistency of a marshmallow. A measure of how dominant the Edinburgh eight were came early in the second half when the home team was awarded a penalty five yards out from the line with both of Edinburgh’s flankers in the sin bin. Rather than opt for the set scrum against six Edinburgh forwards, Munster kicked to touch!

In one first-half scrum, Edinburgh pushed Munster off their ball so quickly that it caught visitors’ scrum-half Sean Kennedy napping, and he may want to revisit one of his decisions. Towards the end of the first half, nursing a 6-0 lead, Edinburgh’s big men were marching Munster backwards in a scrum that was well within Edinburgh stand-off Tom Heathcote’s kicking range. The penalty was surely coming, yet Kennedy chose to move the ball wide. Never give a sucker an even break, as the scrum-half surely learned during all those years watching Munster as a child.

Hamish Watson was one of those sent to the bin, an occupational hazard for a flanker, especially one of his size. Otherwise he was his usual industrious self, winning one crucial turnover to thwart Munster’s first attack, and Edinburgh eventually won his sin bin thanks to Jack Cuthbert’s 48th-minute try.

“It was a great feeling to get the win,” said Watson after the game. “We got some revenge for that 55-12 loss last season. It was a big achievement for us today. It’s amazing. I spoke to a few of the boys and if that last kick had gone over [Ian Keatley missed a late penalty]… We missed a few kicks ourselves but I think we deserved the win.

“We came here believing that we could win today. A few of us talked before the match, our captain Ross Ford and Mike Coman sitting on the bench. We talked about being here and actually looking for the win, whereas sometimes we have come here and been looking for a bonus point. Instead we came looking for the win and we got it. It’s a great feeling.”

With the exception of the South African “project player” CJ Stander and Simon Zebo in the backs, Munster were plum ordinary. The Munster forwards were once a force of nature, the stuff of legends, the sort of names that would be spoken sotto voce to blackmail children into good behaviour: Denis Leamy, Paul O’Connell, Peter “The Claw” Clohessy, Mick O’Driscoll, “Killer” Kilcoyne, Alan Quinlan and, of course, Anthony Foley, whose tenure as Munster coach has had a rocky start.

One week ago a regular e-mail was sent to every Munster player and, thanks to human error, it arrived with an attachment outlining the coach’s private thoughts on them. So we now know that Foley thinks one of his Test players is “mentally weak” and that another is just riding the “gravy train”. This week’s missive will presumably host the comment that John Ryan can’t scrummage the skin off a rice pudding.

Munster’s players cannot help but be affected by that kind of stuff and Edinburgh won without playing particularly well. They allowed Munster’s runners too much space and they could not hold on to the ball in the second half.

The visitors also collected three yellow cards. The forwards were stuffy but their team gifted two of the softest scores that Stander will ever score and the backs still need a sharper cutting edge in midfield. Matt Scott will surely play at outside centre when he returns.

Elsewhere, Heathcote had an ordinary Edinburgh debut, missing two shots at goal, the second of which would have wrapped things up in the 79th minute. He also kicked away two possessions in the final quarter, both of which were marked by a red jersey inside the Munster 22.

Given their recent record it was a great win for Edinburgh but, without wanting to rain on their parade, this Munster team wasn’t great. It wasn’t even good.