Sharks 50 Munster 35
Forget the scoreline, it’s the manner of the defeat that will hurt Munster most when heads stop spinning and they get a chance to reflect on their exit from the Champions Cup. The shortcomings in performance, in terms of breakdown, discipline and handling mistakes and a facility for conceding tries in batches proved an insurmountable hurdle.
Munster were sloppy and careless too often to escape punishment and showed a disregard for the basic tenets that are not negotiable in chasing victory. Not even a brilliant performance from Calvin Nash, and laudable contributions from Jack Crowley, John Hodnett, Dave Kilcoyne and Shane Daly could sufficiently mask the deficiencies.
There will be no salve to the pervading disappointment levels in scoring five tries including three of the last four because the game had ceased to be a contest at that juncture. And yet for all the self-inflicted woe, Graham Rowntree’s side trailed by just three points at the interval, 17-14.
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They should have been able to recalibrate because the incentive was massive. The Sharks were all at sea defensively. Munster just needed to be accurate, absorb a couple of invaluable early lessons from that opening 40 minutes, namely, to resource the breakdown with the correct numbers to protect their ball.
The Sharks had used power to pilfer possession either to turnover the ball or win a penalty. The second was that the home side’s defence was very poor, gung-ho in orientation where individuals overrode any discernible system underpinned by a blitz philosophy, but with more kinks than a garden hose.
Munster’s first try was a classic example of how to punish the lack of coherence, Jack Crowley, Antoine Frisch and Gavin Coombes combining to put Shane Daly away 35 metres from the Sharks’ line. The West Cork man had plenty to do but accomplished it with aplomb, racing clear and then stepping inside the covering defence to dot down.
Daly proved the facilitator for his team’s second try, Munster again working him into space, left by Sharks right wing Werner Kok racing up and biting in without being able to cut off the pass. The patience and precision with which the visitors made progress around the fringes of a succession of rucks was impressive.
Eventually Dave Kilcoyne spotted a couple of backs defending the short side and powered under a couple of flailing arms. Those two tries converted by Jack Crowley saw Munster lead 7-3 and then claw back to 17-14 just before the interval but of equal importance from a confidence perspective was that they had the capacity to cut their hosts asunder with a modicum of possession.
The Sharks scored a couple of tries of their own, the first from Jadon Hendrikse – he was injured in the process and didn’t take any further part – who profited from Makazole Mapimpi’s sharp footwork that took him inside Antoine Frisch and Jean Kleyn, and he gave his scrumhalf a straightforward run to the line.
Eben Etzebeth was next to cross the Munster line, Nash’s knock-on and a penalty conceded by Stephen Archer gave the home side the field position and the big secondrow ducked under RG Snyman’s challenge to power over. Outhalf Curwin Bosch kicked two conversions and a penalty to give his side a 17-14 interval lead.
It’s reasonable to think that Munster’s halftime chat would have centred on ways to address the breakdown issues, be better discipline wise and just cut down on the errors. What ensued gave lie to the suggestion that any such material was discussed.
Munster conceded a penalty at a ruck and two lineout maul offences in quick succession – the penalty count was 8-1 against at this point – within three minutes of the restart. The upshot was a brace of tries for Sharks hooker Bongi Mbonambi, one of which Bosch converted to make it 29-14 after 48 minutes.
The visitors needed to do many things, tighten up, ensure adequate resources at the breakdown, be clean and precise, not throw 30/70 offloads; they managed none of these things. The Sharks butchered a gilt edged try scoring chance but it hardly mattered.
Munster turned over the ball twice in quick succession both of which led to tries, the first for right wing Werner Kok, the second for Bosch, both of which the outhalf converted to push the home side out to a 43-14 lead: four tries in 18 second half minutes.
Rowntree turned to his bench and that did provide some dynamism, especially, the Wycherley brothers and Jack O’Donoghue in the loose while Conor Murray brought more attuned direction, albeit the fact that Munster outscored their hosts by three tries to one in the final quarter was mere window dressing.
Diarmuid Barron, Mike Haley and Fineen Wycherley crossed the Sharks line with Crowley kicking three conversions, but the home side’s thoughts had already turned to a quarter-final, distracted and loose in their defending, against either Toulouse or the Bulls.
Scoring sequence – 4 mins: Bosch penalty, 3-0; 5: Daly try, Crowley conversion, 3-7; 15: Hendrikse try, Bosch conversion, 10-7; 24: Etzebeth try, Bosch conversion, 17-7; 31: Kilcoyne try, Crowley conversion, 17-14. Halftime: 17-14. 44: Mbonambi try, Bosch conversion, 24-14; 48: Mbonambi try, 29-14; 52: Kok try, Bosch conversion, 36-14; 57: Bosch try, Bosch conversion, 43-14; 60: Barron try, Crowley conversion, 43-21; 63: Mapimpi try, Bosch conversion, 50-21; 68: Haley try, Crowley conversion, 50-28; 77: F Wycherley try, Crowley conversion, 50-35.
SHARKS: B Chamberlain; W Kok, L Am, R Janse van Rensburg, M Mapimpi; C Bosch, J Hendrikse; O Nché, B Mbonambi, T du Toit; E Etzebeth, G Grobler; S Kolisi (capt), V Tshituka, S Notshe. Replacements: G Williams for Hendrikse 17 mins; E van Heerden for Etzebeth halftime; P Buthelezi for van Heerden 48 mins; K van Vuuren for Mbonambi 58 mins; C Sadie for du Toit 58 mins; N Mchunu for Nché 58 mins; B Tapuai for van Rensburg 62 mins; T Abrahams for Chamberlain 69 mins.
MUNSTER: M Haley; C Nash, A Frisch, M Fekitoa, S Daly; J Crowley, C Casey; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, R Salanoa; J Kleyn, RG Snyman; P O’Mahony (capt), J Hodnett, G Coombes. Replacements: S Archer for Salanoa 18 mins; F Wycherley for Snyman 48 mins; C Murray for Casey 48 mins; D Barron for Scannell 51 mins; J O’Donoghue for O’Mahony 54 mins; A Kendellen for Coombes 55 mins; J Wycherley for Kilcoyne 58 mins; J Carbery for Daly 72 mins.
Referee: W Barnes (England)