Peter Bills: Smith believes Munster's 'complete game' enough to claim European crown
Published 19/01/2010 | 05:00
Jean de Villiers' return to form and the extra dimension offered by Keith Earls make Munster the probable 2010 Heineken champions, a rival coach insisted last night.
Treviso coach Franco Smith conceded he was hugely impressed by the variety of Munster's game in Saturday's Heineken Cup pool game against his side in Italy.
"Where do you stop them?" Smith said. "They are a very well-balanced side and I have a lot of respect for their coaching staff. You can see they are very well coached and they're highly organised. But you can see the players are also taking a lot of responsibility. So many of them have been playing together for so long."
Smith believes his players were naive and over-eager at the start of Saturday's match. It was to cost them their chance, he claimed. "We just wanted to tackle anyone in front of us with the ball. But the trouble was, no-one in front had the ball because it was being moved out wide all the time. Munster took calculated risks and they came off but I am sure they knew what to expect from us, they had done their homework.
"Realistically, we were never going to beat them. They are the probable Heineken Cup champions because an in-form Munster side is going to be very hard to beat this year. I have watched a lot of Heineken Cup rugby now and this Munster side is a long way from the one that lost to Leinster by 30 points last year. They look a different outfit."
Smith says that Tony McGahan's new centre pairing holds the key to Munster's chances. "Jean de Villiers is finding form now. I hadn't seen him pass the ball like that before for a long time. It was nice and early and on the front foot. Very nice to see and very talented.
"Keith Earls is also playing very well. He is a brilliant player and brings a new dimension to that team. I don't know whether they will use the same sort of game plan they had against us -- moving the ball wide. But if they do they will be very dangerous. But the fact is, they have the complete game."
South African Smith thinks that the scrummage is Munster's only potential weakness.
"We scrummed very well against them. If it rains and their scrum is under pressure, it could be different. That is the only place where they may be vulnerable. But then again, those players won a Grand Slam for Ireland last year and if Marcus Horan and Jerry Flannery come back soon, they will obviously be stronger," he said.
"They will just have to knuckle down to that problem if it arises. But that is their only possible weakness. They have a good kicking game and they can counter attack with real speed. They have good distribution now. That was the key on Saturday; they had too much speed for us.
"There is no weak individual who you can pinpoint and say that player is out of form, we can attack him. As a side, they are gaining form at a good time and they have the Lions captain too, which is a big factor.
"For me, it feels, like the whole team is building up, and the Irish players are getting better and better as the Six Nations approaches. I also think the recent break they had because of the bad weather has done them the world of good in their preparation for the Six Nations and the rest of the season. They are going to be really tough to beat."
He meant both Munster and Ireland.