JUST a year since his passing, Munster will hope they can live up to Anthony Foley’s long held view that the team is ‘better then bitter’ as they head to France this weekend to kick off their Champions Cup campaign.
A repeat of the ill-disciplined, disjointed, inconsistent display Rassie Erasmus’ charges produced against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday won’t suffice against Castres next Sunday.
It will be a smarting Munster side which heads to France, but can last season’s beaten Champions Cup semi-finalists rectify the wrongs of Saturday in time for the Pierre-Antoine showdown on Sunday, 1pm Irish time?
That Munster contributed handsomely to their ninth defeat in their last 10 meetings with their arch rivals at Lansdowne Road.
Munster’s discipline was poor, with the visitors racking up 11 penalties, seven in the first half alone, as well as a yellow card for hooker Niall Scannell mid-way through the opening half as he swatted the ball away as Leinster were putting the ball through hands.
A penalty count half that size is just about acceptable in the modern game and with Jonathan Sexton in impeccable form from the kicking tee, Munster paid a heavy price for indiscretions.
The experiment of going with, in-effect, three out-halves in their backline, Ian Keatley, Tyler Bleyendaal and JJ Hanrahan didn’t work out as hoped.
Munster wanted to play with width, but they never gained the dominance up front.
It will be interesting to see which number 10 Erasmus hands the out-half jersey to next weekend. On the face of it, Hanrahan might just be the preferred option.
With Simon Zebo set to come back from injury, double try-scorer Keith Earls in electric form on the wing, Erasmus could well opt to complete his back-three with Andrew Conway at full-back. Plenty of food for thought, then, for the Munster backroom team.
Then there is the question of the second-row and line-out in particular. Munster have lacked a bit of mongrel in the engine room with the injury to Jean Kleyn.
Robin Copeland, better known as a back-rower, was redeployed into the sector on Saturday. Munster were up against two well established international second-rowers in Toner and Fardy at Lansdowne Road and came off second best.
They will desperately hope that Kleyn will be fit for this weekend’s trip to France.
In the back-row Munster also had issues on Saturday. Number eight CJ Stander, who made his 100th appearance for the province, is judged by high standards, but the Lion wasn’t as influential as normal. Leinster managed to curb his threat with ball in hand and Munster must find a way to ensure a repeat performance doesn’t happen again. Stander brings a crucial ball-carrying dimension and Munster need to prevent teams from stifling that normally reliable element of his game.
SCORERS: Leinster: Rory O’Loughlin two tries, Jonathan Sexton three pens, two cons. Munster: Ian Keatley try, con, Keith Earls two tries.
LEINSTER: Joey Carbery; Adam Byrne, Rory O'Loughlin, Robbie Henshaw, Barry Daly; Jonathan Sexton (capt), Luke McGrath; Jack McGrath, James Tracy, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Scott Fardy, Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan. Replacements: Sean Cronin for Tracy, Michael Bent for Furlong. Cian Healy for Jack McGrath (50 mins), Jordi Murphy for Ruddock, Jamison Gibson-Park for Luke McGrath (62 mins), Ross Molony for Fardy (69 mins), Fergus McFadden for Daly (73 mins), Rhys Ruddock for van den Flier (73 mins), Ross Byrne for Sexton (76 mins).
MUNSTER: JJ Hanrahan; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Tyler Bleyendaal, Keith Earls; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Robin Copeland, Billy Holland, Peter O'Mahony (capt), Tommy O'Donnell, CJ Stander. Replacements: Rhys Marshall for O’Donnell (28-31 mins), Alex Wootton for Keatley, Stephen Archer for Ryan (both 45 mins), Jack O’Donoghue for O’Donnell (64 mins), Rory Scannell for Bleyendaal 66 mins), Rhys Marshall for Niall Scannell, Liam O’Connor for Kilcoyne (both 68 mins), Mark Flanagan for Copeland (69 mins), Duncan Williams for Murray (73 mins).
REFEREE: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)