Sunday 11 December 2016

Big-game experience can swing this Munster's way

Foley's men must start strongly to take full advantage of Connacht's draining build-up

David Wallace

Published 27/11/2015 | 02:30

Ian Keatley is sure to be a key man in tomorrow’s clash against his old team Connacht
Ian Keatley is sure to be a key man in tomorrow’s clash against his old team Connacht
Robin Copelandin action during a Munster squad session this week

The B&I Cup clash against Yorkshire Carnegie was quite useful for Munster last weekend, but that was a once-off. I would prefer to see players playing for their clubs in the Ulster Bank League, rather than waiting for the 'A' games to come around now and again.

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The B&I Cup does serve its own purpose, but I would like to see teams take it more seriously with more regular games, or else the money could be ploughed into different areas by the IRFU.

I think the academies are a huge area where the club game could benefit, if they are supported better it would spread the net wider, and allow more players to get the chance to showcase their talents.

Players are being drafted in to the provincial set-ups at a much younger age now, and it means if a player joins the game late they have little or no hope of making it as a professional.

The domestic scene is all-important for provincial and national success down the road, but last weekend, with Munster not playing, it was ideal to focus their effort on the B&I Cup.

It still provided an outlet for anyone who needed a bit of game-time. Billy Holland was definitely one of those and it was good to see him on the scoresheet.

Munster got the break at the right time last week, but they need to switch on now because they can go top of the Pro12 with a win tomorrow night.

And this is a top quality Connacht side who have won eight of their nine games this season.

The Munster players will know the threat Pat Lam's men pose, and if Munster start slowly it could be a long evening.

However the break was badly needed, and the players got some time to relax and refresh. Naturally the guys will have eased off a bit last week.

After that break, the players will have needed to switch back on straight away this week.

Connacht are full of confidence at the moment, and they have the ability to cause Munster more than a few headaches.

Experience

There's a lot of young guys looking to prove a point in their team, so it's vital Munster don't let them in for any early scores - especially when they have the likes of Robbie Henshaw, Kieran Marmion and Nathan White, all with international experience. They have lifted the standards at the Sportsground, and Connacht are real top four contenders in 2015-16.

Last week couldn't have been any different for them, they certainly didn't get time off. After seven days in the cold of Russia, they only had a couple of training sessions to prepare for Brive. That could have taken a lot of them.

And not just in terms of injuries: mentally they might not be able to fight back this week, if Munster get the early ascendancy.

But on the flipside, if there was ever a team bonding experience, that was it. That would have built up the team morale massively, and could work wonders when push comes to shove.

It's a top of the table clash and Munster have all of the experience in these scenarios, so they must use that.

Connacht have no natural experienced openside available, so that is a potential area of weakness.

Conor Murray is usually vital if Munster want to control the tempo of the game and with doubts about his fitness that could be a blow. Whoever replaces him needs to boss possession and keep his team headed in the right direction. And he needs to ensure CJ Stander remains the focal point.

CJ has been the go-to man all season for Munster: if he gets the ball often and in the right positions, he will do damage. If he has a good game Munster generally win.

If Munster are in a winning position coming towards the final quarter of the game, I only see this going one way. With the distance Connacht have travelled recently Munster should be fresher too. Connacht won't be able to keep up with a side who haven't played in 13 days.

But it's just crucial that Anthony Foley has his players clued in, right from the off. If they offer Connacht a chance to get their confidence flowing, they could make it two from two at Thomond Park this season.

Irish Independent

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