Eye on basics delivers bright start to season
Defensive tone and great attitude get Rassie era off to a flyer in Wales
Published 09/09/2016 | 02:30
Going into this season there was an air of positivity around Munster Rugby. A lot has changed over the summer and that freshness seems to be coming through on the pitch as well.
Even though Munster were deprived of possession for large parts of last weekend's game against Scarlets, they handled most of what was thrown at them very well, and then took their chances when they came.
The defence seemed to handle Scarlets' wide patterned play very well. And Munster's attack was far more direct than Scarlets'. The Welsh were expansive but their ball-handling let them down in the conditions and they didn't adapt to what they faced in front of them.
Munster played a clever game and played the percentages very well.
Defence coach Jacques Nienaber's influence is evident straight away. The line-speed and coordination was there. You look at the telling hits that the guys put in, and they forced Scarlets to turn the ball over.
But it wasn't one-dimensional either; there were chop tackles too, and turnovers resulted when one guy went high and the other player came in low. Munster kept Scarlets guessing - they had a guy going low and the other player coming in to get the attacker high and forcing the turnover at the breakdown.
It just seemed to be comfortable. But of course that's just the first game of the season. Scarlets were a little bit limited and were wide in their patterns. Scarlets will get better as the season goes on.
It was a great win and sets Munster up for the season in terms of bringing the momentum from the warm-up games forward. The new coaching set-up seems to be gelling well and it all points to a good season ahead.
Tommy O'Donnell was a deserved man of the match, and not just for his work-rate. Although he put in a lot of tackles, it was the physical nature of those tackles that made the difference.
As a player, you want as many positive impacts in the game of rugby, and to this end Tommy was superb. He was hurting an attacker or dislodging the ball, and doing really well in defence. Sometimes it's hard for a back-row to shine when the team doesn't have a lot of possession, but he still made a statement.
Ronan O'Mahony is on fire on the wing at the moment - he has scored three tries in as many games and looks very sharp going forward.
Munster missed a couple of throws in the lineout at the start of the game but from there they settled nicely, and were on top towards the latter end of the game. The lineout turned into a good source of possession, and the scrum was really impressive. John Ryan had an outstanding game. I thought the set-piece really clicked and that could be one of the fundamental parts of the game-plan for Munster. Rassie Erasmus earmarked that in pre-season and it seems to be coming to fruition so far. This weekend it's Cardiff Blues, and they seem to have recruited well with the likes of Nick Williams and Willis Halaholo arriving in pre-season. For me they are a team that are getting their act together big time.
Scarlets were maybe the form Welsh team in the last couple of years in the Pro12 but I do fear Cardiff. It certainly won't be an easy one and they have beaten Munster recently in Irish Independent Park.
It's going to be a tough game but the way Munster are going about their business at the moment they should be able to deal with what Cardiff have to offer.
I was very impressed with Munster's direct attack last weekend, especially with their carries and leaching off the breakdown.
And certainly for the first try from James Cronin, Dave Foley had a good carry and it came from Duncan Williams' break.
He is so threatening on the fringes of the scrums and mauls, and his sniping runs are really dangerous to the opposition. When he is on the field he can be a potent tool and he add another dimension to Munster's attack.
It is historically forward-led, and is developed around the pack and then they can spread the ball wide. But they have so many options now and it adds another string to their bow.