Coming out of the Aviva on Saturday night we happened across one of the Munster support staff.
He looked like a bulldog who had just licked something unpleasant off a nettle. Maybe it was because the last person he wanted to bump into was someone who writes about rugby for a living or perhaps it was because Leinster’s second string had tied Munster in knots.
Fair enough. But for us the over-riding emotion for anyone connected with Munster surely had to be relief.
Faced with the prospect of getting marooned on a desert island of one losing bonus point, from which the only escape was a long haul trip to play at altitude against the Bulls, instead they are spinning up the motorway to play Ulster.
Yes, it’s a payday missed at Thomond Park, but if you’re not capable of controlling a game against Leinster’s stand-ins then you’re hardly in a position to complain about how you lose.
And that was critical.
For example, had Munster scored a try with five minutes left it would have taken them temporarily into a home draw in the quarters against the Bulls, thanks to two losing bonus points, but what if Leinster came back and scored again?
“After the Stormers result, we knew if we wanted to get second, we needed five points. And then what happens if you have four points, three points plus four tries, two points, one point and zero points,” Johann van Graan said afterwards.
“The message when Leinster kicked that last penalty was if we score one more try, we have got four tries and we are within seven, so that’s what we went for to get us the two points, which would have had us at home. But that wasn’t to be.
“We potentially overplayed but we were looking for the penalty to hopefully get us into the corner to hopefully get that fourth try and two points. But it wasn’t to be.”
The reality is that scoring a try with anything more than a minute left exposed them to disaster.
So of all the defeats they have suffered at the hands of Leinster this should be the easiest to swallow.
Ulster in Ravenhill is a winnable game.
So when Van Graan was finished telling us how disappointed his lads were at losing a game they came to win, he actually delivered the key message: “The difference is we didn’t get knocked out tonight.”
Indeed. The next job is to pull enough from the wreckage to bring to Belfast. There is stuff there they can develop.
The quick fire tries for Jack O’Donoghue and Mike Haley in the first half were good examples of sustained and accurately applied pressure opening holes. But they fell out the rear end of the game in the third quarter.
The killer was a 50-22 from Cormac Foley which yielded a penalty try off a dropped maul. There was still almost half an hour to play but the tone had changed significantly.
Thereafter, once Rory O’Loughlin had added another for the home team just three minutes later, it became a game of ‘what if’ scenarios for Munster where the messages from the coaches box were more important than players’ instincts on the field.
For Leinster it was all good. Van Graan meanwhile is relieved to be spared travelling to a part of the world he calls home, but knows would not be too hospitable.