Thursday 27 July 2017

Set-piece war key to taming Tigers

Munster have talent to atone for recent losses and upset confident Leicester

Munster scrum coach Jerry Flannery looks on during training
Munster scrum coach Jerry Flannery looks on during training

David Wallace

This is such a massive weekend for Munster. The back-to-back Champions Cup fixtures are always huge, but these two clashes with Leicester come with added significance.

The defeats to Connacht and Dragons were a shock to the system after a solid start to the season. But they will be forgotten if Munster can beat a Premiership giant at Thomond Park tomorrow evening.

In a way it couldn’t be set up better for Munster, and it takes me back to the days when these big English clubs would travel to Limerick, and we would be the underdogs.

There is nothing quite like the opportunity to upset the apple-cart and with Leicester riding high in the Aviva Premiership, where they have just one loss so far this season, Munster wouldn’t want it any other way.

Coup

Getting Manu Tuilagi to re-sign earlier this week was a massive coup for Leicester, and it gives another indication of the massive wages these guys can pay.

So Leicester are coming to Munster full of confidence, and they could be set up for a fall.

Munster possess a massive amount of potential, and the recent defeats shouldn’t cloud the judgement.

Dragons can put up some impressive displays at Rodney Parade. Before they beat Munster, the last team they played there was Sale Sharks, and they beat them with a bonus point.

So they are a quality team, and being ninth in the Pro12 standings doesn’t tell the full story. Munster had two big try-scoring opportunities in the first half as well.

It’s never easy when you go out looking to build momentum and pick yourself up from a shock defeat. The Connacht loss was hard to take, and it would have been a great pick-me-up to win in Wales, if they had dotted down those two tries.

A few players showed glimpses of what they could do on the day, but there is plenty of talent to come back in there. Hopefully Conor Murray and BJ Botha will be fit, and CJ Stander is another great asset to be able to call on.

Munster certainly have the players, and the will to win this game, but Leicester have serious depth in talent too. Even with a couple of injuries – Mike Williams broke his forearm recently – they will put out a serious starting 15 and replacements tomorrow.

Even if you just look at their front row, you start to get an idea of the quality they possess. They could have Marcos Ayerza, arguably the loosehead of the tournament in the World Cup, Tom Youngs and Dan Cole in numbers one to three.

So they will look to attack the Munster scrum from the outset, and hopefully BJ will be fit to lock that down. Munster need to get parity, or better, at scrum-time if they want to have a chance, and the breakdown is another key area.

With Brendon O’Connor and Tom Croft, Leicester have some exciting talent in the back-row, and they could be devastating on the ground. It’s going to be a huge test there for the likes of Jack O’Donoghue and Dave O’Callaghan.

It will be interesting to see how they compete with O’Connor.

He’s straight out of the David Pocock realm of opensides; he might not be as well built, but he still competes ferociously for every ball.

He got man of the match in their opening win over Stade Francais, and his all-round display was very impressive that night.

Weapons

They have some serious weapons dotted across the backline too, with Ben Youngs, Vereniki Goneva and Telusa Veainu all real threats. But Munster have a quality backline just waiting to be unleashed.

With Murray hopefully back in the fold they could get their chance to showcase their talents tomorrow night. If Francis Saili is back he needs to be utilised better, while Keith Earls and Simon Zebo have the finishing prowess to do damage.

But it’s likely that this game will be all about the route one stuff, and Munster must attack up the middle before they move it wide.

It looks set to be a fantastic game, hopefully both sides turn up, but we don’t have a repeat of Leicester’s win at Thomond Park in 2007.

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