Thursday 8 December 2016

David Wallace: Excellent start to pool for Munster could be vital in the end

Bonus-point victory was a well-executed plan from Foley's confident side

David Wallace

Published 20/11/2015 | 02:30

Keith Earls along with head coach Anthony Foley at UL
Keith Earls along with head coach Anthony Foley at UL
Simon Zebo

Munster must be commended for their bonus-point performance at Thomond Park last Saturday, and it is a pity they won't get to build on that in Paris this weekend, but it was the right decision.

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With a number of matches going by the wayside, and then a bomb scare at the Germany versus Netherlands soccer game in Hannover on Tuesday, it was a big ask to stage a Champions Cup clash in the heart of Paris. Nevertheless, Munster have five points in Pool 4 - they are top ahead of Leicester Tigers on points difference.

Munster never looked like losing to Treviso but it was vital that they got the bonus point. But even from that perspective it didn't look great until just before the hour.

As usual, captain fantastic CJ Stander powered his way over for Munster's second try, to add to BJ Botha's early opener.

Instrumental

Botha was instrumental again, he could have had three tries on the night. Having signed a contract extension last week, it's important to keep him fit if Munster want to go far this season.

After that, Duncan Casey crossed for Munster's third try, and it was only a matter of time until Simon Zebo got the bonus-point effort. It was a great win built on the foundations of what Munster are good at.

It showed a great deal of maturity, and the pack were fantastic - in wet and windy conditions it's always about up-the-jumper rugby, and Munster were smart to keep the ball tight, and attack around the fringes when the opportunities arose.

Three of their four tries came from that facet of the game, and it showed that the players had clarity in their performance. They knew their particular roles and that led to an unstoppable unit.

That is one thing that has impressed me about Munster this season, they can grind out results in the most testing conditions.

Munster knew deep down that they had to get the bonus point, they will become invaluable later in the pool phase. The players were smart enough to be patient and wait for the chance to come.

Throughout the 80 minutes the backs never got their chance to flourish, there were some glimpses of what they can do, but it was always going to be littered with handling errors in those conditions.

One of the highlights of the performance was how Munster coped in defence against a side that put three tries past Connacht at the Sportsground the previous week. Braam Steyn did get over for Treviso, but that was an opportunist effort, when Ian Keatley got blocked down.

Other than that, the Italians never looked like touching down, and that must be pleasing for Anthony Foley. They would have loved to build further momentum this weekend, but in another way this gives them time to regroup and build toward Connacht in the Pro12 - a top-of-the-table clash at Thomond Park.

I was working for beIN Sports at the other game in Pool 4, Leicester Tigers versus Stade Francais, and the hosts looked good at Welford Road. It's a real statement from them to be able to get the bonus point too, and it puts them in the driving seat.

New head coach Aaron Mauger's influence is already plain to see, Leicester played exciting rugby throughout, and you could see how they were trying things in the first-half. They didn't quite come off until after the break but they have that threat and to get a bonus point against Stade is no mean feat.

Stade didn't throw in the towel either - they have a lot of talent in their ranks, with Sergio Parisse, Morne Steyn and Julian Arias they have players that can do damage.

But for Munster, there is still plenty to come, it's disappointing to see a mini-hooker crisis at the club again. But even if Mike Sherry and Duncan Casey are injured Kevin O'Byrne and Niall Scannell have proven in the past they can slot in seamlessly.

I can't wait until the backs get some dry weather to work with - Simon Zebo was brilliant against Treviso, I can only imagine the damage he will do alongside Francis Saili, Keith Earls and Andrew Conway if they get the right kind of ball.

Irish Independent

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