Monday 24 April 2017

Players can put their hands up for key period

Victory essential but Zebre can be a sticky opponents
Munster players including Billy Holland (left) are put through their paces
Munster players including Billy Holland (left) are put through their paces

David Wallace

After the highs of Ireland beating England and denying them another Grand Slam, it's back to the nitty-gritty of the Pro12, and Munster's game against Zebre at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi tomorrow.

It's a massive game in Munster's season and it cannot be down-played no matter what the calibre of the opponent. Munster need to get the win over there, and even if they don't get all five points, it's vital they keep the confidence flowing ahead of the Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulouse.

I do expect Munster to take a bonus-point victory away from Parma, but still the Italians are capable of springing a shock every now and again, and I'm sure Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber will have the Munster players in tune going into this weekend.

These games always provide a vital link between the internationals and the huge European games, and it's always a big opportunity for a team to find their stride again after a stop-start few months with the Six Nations.

Obviously Munster won't have their full string this weekend, but you would expect a strong selection and the players will need to slot back in, find their shape, and get the calls going.

Zebre can be a sticky opponent, although Munster hammered them 49-5 in Round 5 back in October, and it should be another thoroughly professional display from this Munster side.

And speaking of professional displays, Ireland's victory over England was one of the best I have seen in a long time. Ireland did the simple things well and negated any threats England had.

Ireland dominated possession in the first half, and kept the score-board ticking over and then when they got their try-scoring opportunity, Iain Henderson took it brilliantly, and justified his inclusion in one play.

Another player who definitely gave Joe Schmidt something to think about going forward was Peter O'Mahony. He's obviously a top-class operator, but in the Six Nations finale he took his game onto another level and his lineout steal in the latter stages of the game turned the momentum back in Ireland's favour.

Character

But Ireland never looked like losing a brilliant game of rugby. Ireland just took the fight to England from the off, and they showed immense character to get to every ball first and grind down Eddie Jones' troops.

In truth, England's massive 61-21 victory over Scotland the previous week was probably the worst possible way for them to come into a Grand Slam decider. Playing against a fierce rival like Ireland, England needed better preparation and not a walk in the park like they got in Twickenham that day.

When England get their foot on the throat of the opposition, and they turn the screw, they can push on and be quite emphatic. But Ireland and Joe Schmidt were too smart for them, and they never played into their hands.

The Welsh game was the perfect preparation for Ireland. Obviously they would have preferred to win that game, and go into the final round of the Six Nations looking to win the tournament itself. But Ireland were part of thrilling intense Six Nations game for two weeks running and England couldn't match them.

England were made to look ordinary by an Ireland side that forced them into making silly errors. It was a clinical display from Ireland. And it certainly bodes well going into the future. It will be interesting to see what the summer tour has in store now, with so many new players set to be given their opportunity.

The other main talking point from the final weekend was the sensational game in Paris, where France beat Scotland after 100 minutes of rugby. It was amazing to watch and I don't think referee Wayne Barnes did much wrong.

Barnes got a lot of stick in the media after the game. But he was relatively powerless when the French doctor told him their tighthead Uini Antonio required a HIA. There would have been outrage had Barnes refused to let a player leave the field for a HIA so I think he got that call right.

In terms of the scrum resets, it was obviously unfortunate but he was backed into corner by two front-rows who just couldn't seem to get the scrum right.

Irish Independent

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