Shambolic Reds lack control and a discernible plan
Published 14/01/2013 | 05:00
Munster went to Edinburgh and duly won but certainly not in style – nor did they achieve the important task of earning a bonus point.
They are now relying on a disinterested Racing Metro to come to Limerick on Sunday and concede without a fight. Even then, one would not be certain that this toothless tiger in red could do the business.
The great Munster teams were certainly better but they also had the priceless asset of a plan to which everybody subscribed.
Racing's largesse against Saracens in Paris effectively consigned Munster to taking the best runner-up route to the knockout stages and the southern province made hard work of the task in Scotland. They never looked like getting four tries and the team clearly now is without a discernible game plan.
The much-vaunted Rob Penney game of width was ditched and not just because of the weather but, rather, that the coach has realised that this group of players cannot play the game he wants.
In that context, the role of James Downey in the centre is a mystery. It was incomprehensible that Munster tried to play a direct game and the big centre barely touched the ball.
Munster fans will cite the loss of experienced players but the game plan is now a mess, relying almost entirely on the boot of Ronan O'Gara and the hope that a forward can power over from close range.
Conor Murray scored a try from three metres to underpin the view that this team cannot score a try through invention or the use of angles. It was left to Edinburgh to demonstrate, as the game wound its way to a boring conclusion, how to score tries using back play. All this from a team that could not previously score a try in this competition.
The Munster midfield is a shambles. Downey's limited talents are clearly surplus to requirements and Keith Earls continues to show that he is not a centre. Against Edinburgh, his defence was exposed when required to make a decision as to whether to stay or drift; he passed without looking; and his attacking threat was more cosmetic than real.
In recent weeks, referees have come in for some criticism and yesterday Greg Garner dutifully obeyed the diktats of his masters at the International Rugby Board, and the net result was that almost every scrum ended in a kick and most of the breakdowns finished in similar fashion.
Predictably, a penalty try – as is now de rigeur in modern rugby – was awarded to Munster.
The opening minutes demonstrated the failings in this side. A beautifully angled kick by O'Gara put Munster in the perfect position in the corner. The line-out was duly overthrown and an opportunity of seven points and important momentum was lost. In those crucial early moments, the men in red gave away consecutive line-outs and scrums by poor throwing and bad timing at the engagement.
Penney may have a poor conception of how this team should play but the set-piece is entirely the players' responsibility. Good teams have a discipline and a commitment born of a belief in the system. This team is playing without any semblance of control.
The last 15 minutes, when the bonus point was there to be won, saw this team at their worst. Panic was the order of the day and knocks-on, wild kicks and transgressions at the break-down were rife. The most important period in the game was almost entirely in the hands of the hapless home team.
There were, however, pluses up front. Dave Kilcoyne was an immense presence and destroyed his opponent at the scrum.
The Scots did not help their cause by wearing footwear more akin to carpet slippers. Did they expect the early morning snow not to have an effect on the ground conditions? For all the professionalism of the modern era, common sense often appears to take a back seat.
Peter O'Mahony was a powerful grafter in the tight and part of a powerful and courageous back-row that relies on the physical rather than the mental to establish control. That lack of sophistication coupled with the inadequacies of the backline does not give the team too many attacking options.
Paul O'Connell's injury and the retirement of David Wallace are the biggest losses to the province. With those two giants, Penney could have gone for a simple plan of a kicking fly-half behind a dominant pack. His hands are tied but the months wasted on following a failed tactical vision are coming home to roost.
Munster still have a chance of qualification but even in the unlikely event of that happening they will have little chance of progressing further.
There is a real possibility of another Irish team joining Ulster but Leinster have the firepower to beat higher-seeded opponents. For the sake of the final at the Aviva, the boys from the Pale might be a better option.
This weekend, Connacht were demolished and Munster looked a pale shadow of their great past. Meanwhile, Eddie O'Sullivan remains in exile in Moylough.
It is hard to believe that he could not have wrought improvement in either team.