Reds boss urges players to cut out 'unforced errors'
WITH a four-point cushion at the head of the Magners League, a dominant position in an exceedingly difficult Heineken Cup pool and having just secured a well-deserved and hard-earned victory over a Cardiff Blues side packed with international quality, there were plenty of reasons for Munster to be satisfied at Thomond Park on Saturday night.
Factor in the riotously greeted return of the totemic Paul O'Connell and a squad that is as close to its full complement as it has been all season, and things are looking pretty rosy for the province ahead of Sunday's Heineken Cup visit of the Ospreys.
However, seeking a response to the frustrations of Heineken Cup and Magners League semi-final defeats last season, Munster's focus and determination has been impressive this campaign and they have adopted a pragmatic attitude and set of standards that leave little room for self-congratulation.
Cardiff brought a claustrophobic defence and a high degree of physicality to Limerick, justifying their status as one of the league's 'big four' together with Munster, Leinster and the Ospreys. Victory was always going to be hard-earned and while Munster coach Tony McGahan acknowledged that beating a quality outfit like the Blues was "pleasing", he said the level of performance was anything but.
How did the Australian rate Munster's display out of 10?
"Two, three? We showed a desire to play but from an execution point of view, we didn't get a lot of things out of it. We weren't at the races," said McGahan.
"The disappointing part is that we came up with so many unforced errors, whether it was a throw, catch, first-up tackles, getting into good support lines, kicking or panicking and going for field (drop) goals after turning over a line-out, kicks off the side of the boot -- a combination of things.
"That's probably the most disappointing thing -- our execution. But look, this is a very good Cardiff side, they are third in the table so to get a result against them is pleasing."
The prospect of taking on the Ospreys and their galaxy of international stars will concentrate the minds this week and McGahan believes widespread improvement is needed to overcome that challenge, but is happy to have so many selection headaches to ponder this week.
"Where do we need to improve? If you were looking at this, you'd say in every area. We certainly haven't forgotten how to play, but Heineken Cup week is a different week and whether we are successful or not (the weekend before), we are able to bin that, move on and focus on getting ourselves back organisationally-wise and mentally.
"There were probably 20 changes to the group this week, players were brought back in having been spread over a number of different areas," added McGahan.
"We've been stretched to the limits. We have had 21-23 players out for a few weekends so it was bit of a strange occurrence at training to have so many people, but it's always pleasing to have a full complement to choose from and selection will be a very tough proposition this week."
Hooker Damien Varley continued the impressive form that has propelled him so rapidly up the ladder and a dynamic display in the loose, backed up by his all-round physicality and contribution to an extremely impressive scrummaging display, deservedly garnered the Garryowen man the man-of-the-match award.
There were a couple of line-out throws that went askew, although the vast majority hit the mark, and Varley echoed the sentiments of his coach when assessing the performance -- acknowledging the significance of the victory against a quality outfit but bemoaning the number of mistakes.
"After a month away, it was the first opportunity we were all together, so it's a good result but there is a lot of stuff we need to work on, looking ahead to next week. The positive is that we got a result at home," said Varley.
"We were probably a bit rusty, there are a lot of areas we need to work on for next week, a lot of simple mistakes. It's more of an individual thing -- throwing, tackling -- but it's not all doom and gloom, we got a result at home and it's a good result going forward.
"Our scrum is always improving. The scrum can be messy at times with the new interpretations, but I thought we had a solid platform most of the time.
"Cardiff are a very good team, they were physical up front and did a lot of things that led to us being under pressure for most of the game from a physicality point of view," he added. "Any day when you have to work hard and there are a lot of mistakes happening and you grind it out and work for the result is good preparation.
"A lot of work to do, but a lot of positives as well."