A losing bonus point may have been secured on Sunday last, but there was no concealing Munster’s disappointment at the end of another bruising European Cup clash with Clermont Auvergne.
Despite the similar scoreline to last January’s match, this was an altogether different type of game, given how well Munster began this time around.
But the physicality and application of the first half effort, albeit short of the desired finishing power on occasion, wasn’t replicated after the break, when Munster struggled in the possession stakes.
There’ll have been harsh words in training this week among the players, long before Tony McGahan had his say.
“This really is a simple game and if you concede the gain-line in rugby it doesn’t matter what you do at the breakdown, you’re going to be chasing your tail,” said a frank Paul O’Connell.
“We did that once or twice and Clermont punished us for it. We went through phases very well but seemed to get pinged a lot at the third or fourth phase and passes went astray, which is disappointing given how our skill level has improved a lot this season.”
However, the scenario facing Munster remains largely positive: win their final three pool games and they’ll top the pile. And with two of those fixtures at home, and the third likely to be a dead rubber away to Montauban, the holders remain in control of their own destiny.
“We were looking for a win in Clermont and were of course disappointed not to get it but we know that the losing bonus point could make all the difference at the end of the pool stages,” according to the Munster skipper.
“Having said that, if we don’t go and beat them this weekend in the return fixture then that losing bonus point will count for nothing.”
No doubt, there’s been a lot of individual analysis by players this week, especially given how Clermont’s Brock James punished Munster’s indiscretion on the fringes.
“There were a few issues in the scrum and we were disappointed with the number of penalties we conceded,” added O’Connell. “We pride ourselves on our discipline which we think is one of the strongest parts of our game.”
The captain added that there were positives to be taken from Sunday’s display, elements they’ll seek to build on next Saturday (kick-off: 3.30pm).
“We had a strong first half and did some things very well, at times we defended exactly how we wanted to,” O’Connell continued.
“Ronan (O’Gara) was solid as a rock in terms of his kicking. The pressure penalty at the end to give us the losing bonus point was massively important and could make the difference in a few weeks time.”
As usual, a pool involving Munster looks set to go right to the wire and with Sale surely set to come away from Montauban with at least four points, the margin for error is now at a minimum.
But with both Clermont and the Sharks yet to visit Thomond Park, Munster remain in the most advantageous position to reach the quarter-finals once more.
O’Connell continued: “We know that Clermont’s away form has not been great but obviously we can’t rely on that. Every game in the group is vitally important and we are only halfway through.
“And this pool is wide open. Sale did well to get a bonus point on Friday night so it’s going to be very tough for us. We’re still right in the mix so it’s in our hands – we just need to get it right this weekend.”
So what must Munster do next Saturday?
“During that first 15 to 20 minute spell in the second half, we just conceded momentum too many times and let them get moving with their pick-up-and-go tactic and then throw the ball wide – which is what we knew is the way they like to play,” O’Connell reflected.
“It is up to us to get it right in the return.”
Having now lost three of their last four games, Munster realise that nothing other than a victory this weekend will suffice. And with arses firmly kicked in the build-up to this massive match; one expects them to get the job done as only Munster can.