Sunday 26 March 2017

Battle of the No 10s will be a classic

Pro 12's in-form out-halves go head to head - but derby will be decided up front

Tyler Bleyendaal will be up against Johnny Sexton tomorrow in a battle that Rassie Erasmus knows will have a major bearing on the outcome of the game. Photo: Sportsfile
Tyler Bleyendaal will be up against Johnny Sexton tomorrow in a battle that Rassie Erasmus knows will have a major bearing on the outcome of the game. Photo: Sportsfile

David Wallace

In the week that Darren Sweetnam got his first call-up to the Ireland camp, it's fitting to talk about him first. He turned in another great display in the comprehensive win over Zebre last weekend.

He has good pace, and his hurling pedigree gives him a fantastic engine. He has really great endurance along with his speed, which is a powerful combination. 

He was a deserved man of the match and he has almost cemented a place for himself in the team at this stage.

The injuries in the side gifted him an opportunity at the start of the season. And there's no doubt about it, he has taken it.

Another player that really impressed me last weekend was Jaco Taute, on his debut. He is a big beast of man - he was standing next to CJ Stander at one stage and he is comparable in size to him. He is over 105kg, and that's some size for a centre.

Depth

Rassie Erasmus. Photo: Sportsfile
Rassie Erasmus. Photo: Sportsfile

There is great competition in the back-row now too, with Peter O'Mahony and Tommy O'Donnell back from injury. There is more strength in depth with Jack O'Donoghue, Dave O'Callaghan, Robin Copeland and Conor Oliver.

When you combine Peter, Tommy and then Stander, it really is a fearsome unit. CJ has really hit form. He was brilliant against Zebre. His block-down, two tries and general work around the park was just fantastic.

He is really on song and is up to the levels of where he was in the last couple of seasons, if not above that.

Emotionally, Munster probably have the biggest game of the season this weekend. And it will be a huge step-up in intensity against Leinster in the Aviva Stadium.

This is a long-standing rivalry; it's the game in Ireland that fans want to see and it's the one that every player wants to play in.

The inter-provincial derbies are like Ireland trials, especially when it's Munster versus Leinster, in their first encounter of the season. Nobody will want to give an inch.

You will have two vastly experienced front-rows going up against each other, and international caps will be decided upon the scrums at the weekend.

This is the litmus test for them now, ahead of Europe. It would be great if Munster could get a bit of momentum.

There some fascinating battles throughout the two sets of 15; it will be particularly intriguing to see what Johnny Sexton and Tyler Bleyendaal can come up with.

They are probably the two form out-halves in the Pro12, and their battle is a mouth-watering prospect.

The Munster players are starting to read Bleyendaal - his exceptional off-loading and his step - better now. You could see it was building all the time, but against Zebre it really came to fruition for the team, and there were guys flying off his shoulder and breaking the gain-line every time.

But this weekend he is coming up against one of the most experienced No 10s in World Rugby. Sexton was a class act against Cardiff last weekend, and he has silenced any doubters that might have thought Joey Carbery had a chance of taking his place in the Leinster starting 15.

The stand-out thing from Leinster's 16-13 win in Cardiff last weekend was the fact that they managed to keep a potent attacking unit scoreless in the second half.

That's never easy in Cardiff Arms Park, especially considering Cardiff had won four from four prior to that.

Tools

But Munster have the tools to unlock any defence at the moment. And on their day, with Conor Murray and Bleyendaal at half-back, they cut could loose and light up the scoreboard as they did against Zebre.

Obviously Leinster won't be conceding seven tries any time soon, but there are chinks in their armour and Munster will look at ways to expose that. No team is unbeatable, and no defensive line is unbreakable.

And with Sweetnam on form out wide, with Keith Earls back to fitness and Simon Zebo in try-scoring form, Munster can get across the whitewash.

The battle up front is where this game will be won and lost - and Munster have been dominant up there so far this season.

Pleasure to see province's clubs prosper

It's so refreshing to see the Limerick clubs back making a huge impression in the top two tiers of the Ulster Bank League.

The clubs in Munster have been decimated by emigration in recent years but gradually players have filtered back in, and we saw last year with Cork Con's great run to the AIL final that things were improving.

This season Young Munster have put in another push in Division 1A, along with Garryowen. And in Division 1B, UL Bohemians have really stepped it up.

It's important for Munster to have the clubs performing well in the Ulster Bank League, and although the Cork clubs may have taken a bit of hit, it's great to see their Limerick counterparts beginning to prosper once more.

Young Munster could make the next step and reach a Division 1A final this year if they can continue on this rich vein of form, while Garryowen, after getting relegated a few seasons ago, look back to their best and could be joined by UL Bohs next season if they continue to improve.

It looks like promising times ahead for the Munster clubs, and for Munster Rugby.

Especially when you consider the age-profile of these teams - it's generally the academy guys that line out for these teams.

Irish Independent

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