DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
THIS match followed a trajectory you could have penned well in advance. The hosts started both halves brightly, and even managed to get some points on the board during those periods, but they couldn’t sustain it on either occasion and ended up being ground down by their more powerful and clinical opponents.
The defeat leaves the capital outfit 11 points adrift from the Champions Cup qualifying spot they covet in PRO14 Conference B, but they have two games in hand and are still to play the two sides who stand in their way – Scarlets and Cardiff Blues – so while they may have run out of wriggle room in their five remaining matches of the campaign, all is not lost.
“We had an opportunity to take a losing bonus point out of the game tonight and anything would have been good for us, but we couldn’t manage it,” reflected head coach Richard Cockerill afterwards.
“But we know we’ve got to beat the teams around us, so Scarlets and Benetton in the next two weeks are going to be very important games. Then we face Connacht, Cardiff and the Dragons.
“This was a tough one to start with in this block of matches,” he added. “We did some very good things and on another day we would have got a bit more out of the game – but at key moments, we just weren’t good enough.”
Edinburgh took advantage of Munster indiscipline to edge into an early lead, with Jaco van der Walt sending home three points after an offside in front of the posts was the fourth penalty offence the visitors conceded in the first eight minutes.
The game then turned full circle with the hosts conceding three penalties in quick succession to set up an opportunity for JJ Hanrahan to even the scores.
To their credit, Edinburgh bounced back positively on this occasion and a clever move off the back of a scrum saw Eroni Sau split Munster open, leading to Andrew Davidson being held up over the line, but then Pierre Schoeman knocked-on as the hosts tried to crank the pressure up even further and Munster took full advantage. They pulverised the home scrum into submission then worked their way up field.
Edinburgh rode their luck when Andrew Conway charged down Jack Blain on his own line with the ball ricocheting like bullet straight into Henry Pyrgos arms, who showed good composure to clear to halfway.
Munster No8 Gavin Coombes was held up over the line a few minutes later after a powerful line-out drive, but the visitors continued to turn the screw, and blindside Jack O’Donoghue was the man who eventually made it over for the score, which Hanrahan converting from wide on the left for good measure.
Van der Walt then sent the restart straight out, which immediately put Edinburgh’s struggling scrum back under pressure on halfway. Munster squeezed the penalty and kicked to the 22, then Davidson was penalised for pulling his opposite number down at the line-out, and Hanrahan kicked to five yards from the line. With a grinding inevitability, the men in red rumbled closer and closer, until scrum-half Craig Casey spotted a chink of light at the side of ruck and nipped in for try number two.
Edinburgh started the second period in better style, with Pyrgos angling a brilliant low kick into the corner, and Viliame Mata burrowing over. Van der Walt added the conversion to make it a seven point game.
As has become customary for Scottish teams, Edinburgh handed the initiative back to the opponents almost immediately when Damien Hoyland kicked a clearance from just outside his own 22 out on the full, and Munster very nearly took full advantage when a slick set-move from the line-out created an overlap on the right, but Chris Farrell couldn’t quite get the killer pass away to Conway.
It was a temporary reprieve, with Coombes succeeding where he had come up just short in the first half, by powering over the line for his seventh try of the season after another telling incursion from the base by Casey. This time, Hanrahan’s conversion hit the upright.
Edinburgh dug deep and set up camp under the shadow of Munster’s posts, picking up a succession of scrum penalties, but they couldn’t make it count, and when South African recruit Boan Venter was sent on at loose-head, his first involvement was to give away a crucial free-kick at the next scrum, which allowed Munster to escape upfield.
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There was a lengthy hold-up in overtime as Davidson was treated on the pitch then stretchered off. Cockerill sounded fairly positive in his initial prognosis afterwards.
“I haven’t seen him because he’s in the medical room, but hopefully it looked nastier than it is and it’s just a precaution around his head and neck,” said the coach. “I think he got head on hip in a tackle and just caught it wrongly.
“We’re disappointed that we gave them relatively cheap field position in the first half to score their points,” Cockerill added. “I thought we started the game well, we had pressure on their goal-line but we didn’t manage to execute properly.
“We got mixed up, we knocked the ball on, we got penalised at the scrum, they marched up the pitch and ended up scoring
“We were pleased to get back into the game at 17-10 and there were opportunities after that to put them under pressure and get right back into it.
“When they kicked the ball dead and we had that midfield scrum, that was the time for Henry Pyrgos to do what he did the time before, go 8-9 and stick it in the corner. We decided to do something different and ended up turning the ball over. They went down the other end and scored again.
“It’s a bit frustrating in terms of some of our game management, but the effort was huge and they’re a good team. They deserved to win and there’s no shame in getting beat by that side, but we’ve got to manage things better.”
Edinburgh: D Hoyland; J Blain, M Bennett (M Currie 73), C Dean, E Sau; J van der Walt, H Pyrgos (C Shiel 58); P Schoeman (B Venter 68), D Cherry (M Willemse 64), L Atalifo (M McCallum 52), A Davidson, G Gilchrist, N Haining (M Bradbury 56), L Crosbie, (A Miller 68), V Mata.
Munster: M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, D de Allende (R Scannell 73), S Daly; J Hanrahan (B Healy 68), C Casey (N McCarthy 75); J Cronin (J Loughman 66), N Scannell (K O’Byrne 67), J Ryan (S Archer 66), J Kleyn, W Holland (F Wycherley 66), J O’Donoghue, C Cloete ( O’Sullivan 66), G Coombes.
Referee: M Adamson (Scotland).
Edinburgh: Try: Mata; Con: Van der Walt;Pen: Van der Walt;
Munster: Tries: O’Donoghue, Casey, Coombes; Cons: Casey 2; Pen: Hanrahan.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 3-0; 3-3; 3-8; 3-10; 3-15; 3-17 (h-t) 8-17; 10-17; 10-22.