Earls: We couldn't adapt to playing like Connacht
Published 15/04/2016 | 02:30
Never had Munster's recent difficulties in grasping the bigger picture been encapsulated so succinctly in one moment.
As they huffed and puffed towards the Leinster line in the Aviva this month, suddenly a sense of perspective seemed to develop on the left-hand side of their often fitful, chaotic attack.
Out wide, Keith Earls, who could have spent much of the evening chatting to bored spectators on his largely unoccupied wing, was screaming for his team-mates to locate the yawning acreage in which it was certain this renowned finisher could score and, ultimately, secure the victory.
Regrettably, the men in red narrowed their drives still more; from the forwards bashing against walls to Simon Zebo unable to hold his depth and create space to receive a putative pass and everywhere in between, Munster simply could not see the bigger picture.
"Communication, it's a noisy place," laments Earls in Limerick, ironically in very hushed, subdued tones, as Munster prepare for another pivotal derby in Galway this weekend seeking to prevent yet another Irish foe doing a double against them.
"When fellas are tired they are just putting the head down to work hard. Obviously don't give the pass, or hit the wrong man."
It says much about the decline in Munster that they need to talk about their next phase of play; Connacht, for one, have ensured that they are not required to stop and think from phase to phase.
"It's about performing under pressure and under fatigue," adds Earls. "And that's something we probably didn't do in the last couple of minutes against Leinster."
Or, it can be argued, for much of the season.
As yet more coaches are added to the ticket - after Andy Farrell's limited success in preventing the side falling off tackles regularly, a director of rugby appointment is imminent - Munster could do worse than ape the Connacht template.
Until you remember they did so already; yet they dumped it in year two; that Pat Lam is now - how he flourishes - in year three, perhaps indicates why patience, a rare currency in these parts, is necessary.
"It's been impressive," says Earls, when, in part jest, one asks whether theirs is a team he would like to play in. "It's high risk, but they are pulling it off. It's the same game-plan Rob Penney brought in to us, the two-four-two (of the eight forwards, two are usually stationed on either flank of the field to ensure the ball is retained at the outer edges).
"Obviously we didn't take to it as well as Connacht. It's good to the eye, for people to watch it.
"I don't know why we didn't take to it. There were a couple of games . . . out of the two years, it probably worked out for us seven times. We played really well. But different squads. And different characters.
"It's probably tradition in Munster, we are able to go and beat up teams. They wouldn't be used to Donncha O'Callaghan or someone out on the wing.
"And the lads like getting stuck in, Munster boys like getting stuck in. When it did work out for us we played really well. Argentina, they are all starting to pick it up now. And it does need time."
Munster's problem is the lack of it; and the less time they have, the less chance they have of grasping the big picture, as during that dramatic endgame in the Aviva when another win went abegging.
As they face a return clash against a Connacht side who, at times, appear to be playing a different sport to their Irish rivals, Munster need to demonstrate they can thrive, not wilt, under the type of pressure where physical and mental skills are presented with their severest test.
"It's up to the decision makers on the pitch as well. Against Leinster, we probably played a small bit too much," says Earls.
"We probably panicked a small bit under pressure, and we tried to just blast over them when space was out wide.
"And that's something that we have to take from that game. To learn and have confidence to have a go at teams.
"There are a lot of young lads in our squad and they are in their first or second year of professional rugby. There is nothing wrong, we are beating ourselves.
"There is nothing wrong with our game-plan now. When we break down, we are leaving a lot of opportunities out there.
"Whoever you are playing you try and create moves to break down their defence, and sometimes they defend differently."
Munster's challenge in the Sportsground tomorrow will be to demonstrate that they have the necessary mental and physical armoury to overcome not only Connacht's proficiency, but their own deficiencies.