Saturday 23 September 2017

Speedy Stander stakes claim for Euro berth

Munster 31
Glasgow 3

David Kelly

David Kelly

A curate's egg of a Heineken Cup dress rehearsal for Munster but at least some firm evidence that the latest South African import, CJ Stander, could be the full Irish.

The Irish project player, who bagged a brace of tries and was a general nuisance in a marauding back-row, could yet prove to be a pivotal influence for a European challenge that offers little room for error.

His second try in Saturday's chilling conditions warmed the cockles, as this stirring concoction of Forrest Gump and Usain Bolt dashed fully 80 yards for a breakaway score, as team-mates trailed in his dazzling wake.

"We were all wrecked trying to celebrate with him," beamed second-row Donnacha Ryan.

"It goes to show how good a break it was for him that we had to chase him down the field. Everyone appreciates how fast he is. It was a great welcome to Thomond Park for CJ.

"In training he gives the backs a run for their money. He's got great chat in him in terms of line-out and scrum, and that's great to see from a new fella coming in. It's great to see the smiles on his face. We're all delighted to have him over here and that's just what the team needed at the time."


Stander was not alone; Tommy O'Donnell was outstanding as his similarly scintillating pace led to one try and helped create the opener.

It was so cruel that he once more rolled his troubled ankle, damage possibly enough to keep him out of next weekend's visit of Saracens to Thomond Park, where he may even have superseded Peter O'Mahony, such was his impact here.

"It's great to come off a breakdown and see the two lads sprinting down the field and knowing you can chase after them," appreciated Ryan.

However, Munster supporters will be conscious that the back-row's influence dimmed appreciably beyond the 50-minute mark, particularly after O'Donnell succumbed to injury.

The whole exercise disintegrated for much of the second half, bar the notable achievement of keeping Glasgow scoreless for the last 77 minutes of the game and the bonus point secured from the penalty try.

When Munster did profit, they did so with regular gulps into the scoreline, snaffling three tries of varying hue, albeit not all of them predicated upon the type of fluid, off-loading game Rob Penney is urgently trying to inculcate into this emerging side.

"It was a fantastic result," Ryan said. "Five points this week is a great response from last week."

However, Munster will be aware that some of the profligacy that they demonstrated in the first half will not be as eagerly indulged by Saracens.

Penney's men flung the ball wide at every opportunity – and in every circumstance – regardless of whether the ball was scruffy, which it often was, or if the midfield were in the equivalent of heavy shopping traffic in Henry Street a few hours earlier, which it also often was.

While some of the off-loading was breathtaking, the execution did not always match the laudable intention, with basic skills at some point in the production line undermining the expansive policy.

"We need to sharpen up those turnovers," said Ryan after a contest that only threatened to live up to its billing thanks to Munster's repeated coughing up of ball in the opening half.

"In the Heineken Cup you get punished an awful lot more if you're not careful. We need to up the standards. We were a bit sluggish in the second half.

"Saracens are doing brilliantly in the Premiership and they've had a fantastic start to the Heineken Cup. We're certainly going to be up against it. We'll have to up our standards about 25pc or 30pc. We're going to be up against it."

Penney was equally effusive about the back-row's work and it would be remiss not to mention the return of the quiet, cerebral influence of James Coughlan at the base of the scrum.

"Tommy has been good for us all year," said Penney. "He has had a tremendous month and I hope he can keep solid – he has a bit of an ankle injury going on and had to come off again with that today.

"In CJ's first start, he exploded a couple of times and ripped them up. He showed what genuine pace can give you when you've got that in your back-row.

"And then James Coughlan coming off the back of eight weeks without any footie, to get through 70-odd minutes – with the numbers on the GPS indicating that he had a massive work load – was a credit to that guy."

Saturday was a smaller snapshot of where Munster need to be during the next fortnight. "I still think we're way off in terms of where we need to be," Penney said. "But seven days is a long time in footie.

"And we have seven days to beat in the fact that it is, for all intents and purposes, another Test week for all of those guys coming back.

"Hopefully, Saracens will be visiting a cauldron next week and it will be really difficult to come away from here with anything, given the amount of passion and support the Munster people will bring next Saturday."

Stirring words have been consistently delivered. Now the actions need to be just as reliable.

Munster – F Jones (I Keatley 59); D Howlett (capt), K Earls, J Downey, S Zebo (C Laulala 65); R O'Gara, D Williams (P Stringer 61); D Kilcoyne (W du Preez 65), M Sherry (D Varley 52), BJ Botha (S Archer 67); D O'Callaghan, D Ryan; CJ Stander, T O'Donnell (P Butler 50), J Coughlan (B Holland 75).

Glasgow Warriors – P Murchie; S Lamont, S Hogg, P Horne, DTH Van Der Merwe; D Weir (S Wight 50), H Pyrgos (N Matawalu 50); R Grant (G Reid 62), D Hall (P MacArthur 56), M Cusack, T Swinson (J Eddie 67), A Kellock (capt), R Harley, J Barclay, R Wilson (J Strauss 53).

Ref – I Davies (WRU)

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