EDINBURGH showed the character and vigour, among many other merits, that they had so woefully lacked last week against Ospreys. But the end product at Thomond Park in Limerick was the same as it had been at Murrayfield a week earlier – a defeat, part of a sequence which now stretches to five.
Richard Cockerill’s team were in front of much of the match – indeed, they were still ahead with just a few minutes to play. But Munster rose to the occasion when it mattered most, claiming the victory when their only try of the game was converted by Ben Healy, who had scored all 18 of their previous points.
There were plenty of encouraging aspects to Edinburgh’s performance, but a lot to work on too, notably the indiscipline which handed Healy that host of scoring opportunities. Cockerill, while accepting that aspects of the game had been an improvement from his point of view, declined to over-emphasise the positive.
“In terms of it being an improved performance, that’s scant consolation,” the head coach said. “It’s a game we should have won and I’m disappointed we didn’t.
“We were five points up with just a couple of minutes to go and we couldn’t clear our lines. Then we gave a penalty away for not rolling away from the tackle. Then, suddenly, we were just five metres from our own line and we gave them opportunities to win the game.
“I expect better from this team. We made too many errors and gave away too many penalties. It’s bitterly disappointing, because we should have won the game.
“It’s a recurring thing. We have opportunities to win and we find a way to lose. We’ve got to get out of it – because, to be honest, I’m sick to death of it.”
It was Healy who gave the home team an early lead with two penalties, the first awarded against Jamie Ritchie after a lineout offence, the second when George Taylor did not release on the ground.
While committing those unnecessary offences, Edinburgh had at least begun energetically, and they soon came close to getting off the mark following an enterprising lineout break by Stuart McInally, only for the move to break down when Grant Gilchrist, the hooker’s co-captain, fumbled possession.
At the next time of asking, however, the two forwards combined well at close quarters, mauling a lineout close to the line before McInally was stopped short. The ball was fed back, though, and Mark Bennett had the confidence to fend off his opposite number and run in the first try of the game, converted by Jaco van der Walt.
Minutes later Damien Hoyland was lucky to get away with a lapse of concentration when he just won the race to touch down a deep clearance which he seemed to have easily covered. That would have been a very cheap five or seven points for Munster, but instead they had to make do with an easy three when a third Healy penalty, given against Rory Sutherland, restored their lead right at the end of the first quarter.
Hoyland redeemed himself after another half-slip by setting up a decent counter-attack, but his uncertainty in such moments epitomised the lack of solidity and self-control in Edinburgh’s first-half performance. For their part, Munster were guilty of a number of handling errors despite the apparently benign conditions.
The game was crying out for some calm, self-possessed play and it came from the visitors on the half-hour mark. It took four men in red to stop a typically powerful run by Duhan van der Merwe, and the resultant gaps in the home defence were exploited by WP Nel, who drove over close to the posts to leave Van der Walt with a simple conversion which put his team 14-9 up.
That self-possession evaporated almost instantly when Edinburgh made a mess of a highly promising counter-attack, and Munster pressed strongly in the remaining minutes before the break, eventually closing the gap to 14-12 with the last kick of the half, another penalty from Healy.
Gilchrist had become the first casualty of the evening when he wrenched his hip, and is a doubt for at least part of the autumn international series. “We don’t know how bad it is just now, but it didn’t look good with him leaving the field,” Cockerill added.
Edinburgh came close to stretching their lead with the first scoring chance of the second half after Munster had spilled a high ball, but Taylor was tackled just short of the line by Andrew Conway and Rhys Marshall got back to mop up. It had been a promising start to the half all the same, and with 50 minutes on the clock a Van der Walt penalty made it a five-point lead again.
Healy soon cut it back to two with his fifth penalty, and then another team offence saw referee Nigel Owens show Van der Walt a yellow card. The Munster stand-off made it six out of six with the kick.
Edinburgh responded with real character. Bennett went to 10 while his team-mate was in the bin, and with the visitors still a man down the makeshift centre made it 20-18 with a penalty. Edinburgh had first done well to run the clock down with Van der Walt in the bin, and then they took the game to Munster when Darcy Graham set off on a mazy run – a move which eventually produced the penalty.
The lead might only have lasted two minutes, as Nick Haining was penalised for not releasing, but Healy, impeccable with the boot up to that point, was off target with the kick. Seven minutes from time, Van der Walt kept up his own 100 per cent record with a second penalty, and his team were again five points to the good.
But there was still time enough for Munster to fight back, and they did it when Healy sent a penalty to touch and CJ Stander finished off the lineout drive. Healy made no mistake this time. Edinburgh’s one chance to hit back ended when Bennett lost the ball forward, and so they went home with no more than a losing bonus to show for their efforts.
Munster: M Haley; A Conway, A McHenry (D Goggin 50), R Scannell, M Gallagher; B Healy, C Casey (C Murray 63); J Loughman (J Cronin 64), R Marshall (K O’Byrne 63), J Ryan, F Wycherley (G Coombes 61), T Beirne (R Salanoa 72), J O’Donoghue, T O’Donnell (J Hodnett 33), CJ Stander (captain). Unused substitute: J Crowley.
Edinburgh: D Hoyland; D Graham, M Bennett, G Taylor, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, N Groom; R Sutherland ( P Schoeman 51), S McInally (M Willemse 70), WP Nel (S Berghan 61), B Toolis, G Gilchrist (A Davidson 33), J Ritchie, H Watson, N Haining. Unused substitutes: M Kunavula, D Nutton, N Chamberlain, J Johnstone.
Scorers: Munster: Try: Stander. Con: Healy. Pens: Healy 6.
Edinburgh: Tries: Bennett, Nel. Cons: Van der Walt 2. Pens: Van der Walt 2, Bennett.
Yellow card: Edinburgh: Van der Walt.
Referee: N Owens (Wales).