Sport Guinness PRO12

Saturday 22 July 2017

David Kelly: Old failings haunt Munster ahead of O'Gara reunion

Erasmus: “The step up was there definitely intensity wise, higher than previous games, but as a reality check, if you’re going to give them 14 points, you’re going to lose the game by 14 points on a platter.” Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Erasmus: “The step up was there definitely intensity wise, higher than previous games, but as a reality check, if you’re going to give them 14 points, you’re going to lose the game by 14 points on a platter.” Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Doping pervades all sport now. Financial doping. Illegal doping. Legal doping.

Munster haven't escaped the wrath.

Mercifully, their transgression is a simpler crime, so elementary it doesn't require a prefix.

At critical times, though always appearing unscheduled, a dopey strain infects a man in a red jersey although the ingestion, to the naked eye, seems entirely invisible.

They have been getting away with their self-inflicted malaise of late, simply because they have been fed a series of handy challenges; Cardiff exposed it though, in Cork, last month.

And it was there again on Saturday in the cruel glare of the Aviva Stadium in front of 40,000 witnesses and countless thousands more on bar stools and couches.

Munster have many disadvantages as they attempt to end their fruitless quest to return to the business end of Europe; accurately shooting themselves in the foot with both barrels at the most inopportune moments will clearly handicap them.

Leinster proved a step up on the opening few weeks' medium bill of Pro12 fare but even the home team wouldn't publicly admit that they represent anything similar to the levels of opposition Munster will face over the next fortnight.

And yet, despite spending the opening quarter of the game attacking as limply as the Irish soccer team had done less than 48 hours earlier, Munster led 7-6 when Leinster's equally limp maul defence allowed captain Peter O'Mahony to decorate another 40-minute cameo on the long road to full fitness.

Many might have expected that Munster could now begin to pose a series of questions about Leinster, the answers to which many of their supporters still sweat over.

Instead, Munster's analysis became introspective and the results weren't pretty; yet again, as they had done against Cardiff, small mistakes were magnified, Isa Nacewa's career stats increased by two tries and Leinster, in second gear, cruised to the finishing line.

Both teams chased a bonus point for different reasons in the final five minutes of an undistinguished afternoon; neither of them, in effect, deserved it. Munster, though, needed it more as they face a daunting trip to Paris to face French champions Racing 92 while Leinster should, one suspects, despatch Castres at home.

"The step up was there definitely intensity wise, higher than previous games, but as a reality check, if you're going to give them 14 points, you're going to lose the game by 14 points on a platter," offers Rassie Erasmus (below).

"If you don't learn from that then the next two games will be really tough for us. I thought we could have handled the intensity much better."

The straight-talking Erasmus remains a breath of fresh air; analysing the second try concession; when, seconds after referee David Wilkinson saved their blushes from a basic blindside attack off a Leinster scrum, they bizarrely allowed Leinster a second, successful opportunity to score.

Which, of course, Nacewa did on behalf of his side.

"It wasn't the systems, it was a missed tackle, there was three-on-three on the blindside from a scrum. Flanker must get the first man, nine must get the second man and wing must make the tackle. There is not even going to be debate about that. Sweets [Darren Sweetnam] should have made the tackle and he knows that."

A lineout implosion caused the first concession; true, Wilkinson - again! - compounded the error by allowing a blatant forward pass from Rob Kearney to allow Nacewa to score the first of his brace to restore his side's lead before half-time.

Moments before, however, Munster had a chance to change the script but, just as they had done at the start of the first, they could neither get enough traction to get over the line by the shortest route necessary or find the edges to expose Leinster's vulnerability on the edges.

"It wasn't only the try-scoring action that my problem was with," says Erasmus of James Cronin's correctly "disallowed" try.

"It was more there were options out wide when we were attacking there, so if you win those big moments suddenly you're in the game and the next 30 minutes are a dog fight.

"But then all of a sudden you get a penalty against you, they score a soft try, so we must learn to use those big moments."


Ultimately, Leinster's defence bossed the afternoon and, aside from the tight five and their impressive maul, it was difficult to see where the advances have been made by the South African coaching ticket.

The same difficulties that afflicted Anthony Foley remain; despite having a fearsomely fast back three, they were invisible in attack until Ian Keatley joined Tyler Bleyendaal as a second five-eighth.

Erasmus refused to point to this as a way forward but, after confirming Andrew Conway will return next week, while O'Mahony will play at least an hour, he did concede, "We have a lot of work to do in attack.

"There were options we didn't take. It is so easy to know what we did wrong, to fix it is another challenge. It was of help going into Europe, it was like a European game."

Next week will be a European game and one man will dominate the build-up everywhere except, it seems within Munster. Ronan O'Gara will be relegated to history in his heartland.

"I am sure if you asked Ronan and I'm sure if you asked our guys in Ireland that won't come into play," he says of the 'Rog' factor.

"It is a nice thing and spices the day up but he won't go 'we know this and we know that' because he hasn't been here for a few years.

"It's just nice to have the guy who played such a big part in the history of Munster to have a role, it spices it up. But I don't think it particularly will play a big role.

"I played against him a lot of times. He turned us around a lot. He is obviously a great player and coach now. I am saying I don't think it will be such a big factor."

Munster have enough to worry about in their own back yard.

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