Saturday 23 September 2017

Consistency key to Erasmus' long goodbye

Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus during a Munster Rugby press conference at the University of Limerick in Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus during a Munster Rugby press conference at the University of Limerick in Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

So much for the theory - for now at least - that when Munster's South African coaches decided to up sticks, nothing good could come from goodbye.

A trip to Wales will test their resolve after a brace of utterly benign outings against the Guinness PRO14 bottom feeders.

Consistency, the signature of Rassie Erasmus' reign, has grounded the side, all the while as they seek to tinker with a game-plan that was good enough to reach the play-offs of two competitions last term but nowhere good enough to get any further.

Perhaps because his Lions remain unavailable, Erasmus has yet again only made one change - at out-half - to his consistent side as he seeks to develops sufficient squad strength for the man who succeeds him, whoever it may be and whenever he takes over.

"Like we saw last year, you need three top-class players in each position if you want to be competitive at the end," he said.

"We were punch-drunk last year when we got to the European semi-final against Saracens and the final against Scarlets."

Not only did squad weakness ultimately self-harm them but their game-plan did too, an overly abrasive approach which had a poor grunt-to-scoring ratio and enervated the side the nearer they got to the white lines.

There have been encouraging signs - admittedly against Southern Kings and Benetton - of an inclination towards more off-loading and subtlety rather than mere brute force in the attack.

"Guys were taking opportunities which presented themselves and didn't wait so much to play structure," offered Erasmus. "That was positive."

Some negatives persist.

"Concentration lapses when you really have a team under the pump like when we had them down 22-3 or whatever the score was at half-time and then you go out and just give a try like we gave away. Big teams which have confidence and are on a roll then hurt you if you let them back into the game like that.

"One-on-one defensive errors. I think the systems were good, I think the attack was getting there, here and there at the breakdown they really caused us problems, there was something like five turnovers at the breakdown, so those are things we must fix."

While Munster are still without their Lions, Ospreys are allowed to bring Dan Biggar on to their bench, as well as welcoming back outstanding flanker Dan Lydiate alongside him after a 10-month injury lay-off.

Their form is indifferent, though - Biggar will leave next summer - and they were limp in defeat to Glasgow last time out. Munster have won eight away games in a row in the league and lost just one in six against today's opponents, three of those wins occurring in Swansea.

This is a chance Munster should seize with both hands.

Verdict: Munster

Ospreys - D Evans; K Giles, C Allen, J Hook, J Hassler; S Davies, T Habberfield; P James, S Parry, M Fia, B Davies, L Ashley, J King, J Tipuric (capt), D Baker. Reps: S Baldwin, N Smith, R Jones, A Beard, D Lydiate, M Aubrey, D Biggar, K Fonotia.

Munster - A Conway; D Sweetnam, C Farrell, J Taute, A Wootton; T Bleyendaal (capt), D Williams; L O'Connor, R Marshall, S Archer; J Kleyn, B Holland; S O'Connor, T O'Donnell, J O'Donoghue. Reps: N Scannell, J Cronin, J Ryan, F Wycherley, R Copeland, J Hart, R Scannell, S Zebo.

Ref - S Berry (South Africa)

Ospreys v Munster,

Live, Sky Sports, 3.15

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