Saturday 24 March 2018

Adding attacking invention to Munster's defensive grit must be Rassie's next mission

Munster's Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Munster's Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Amidst the doom and gloom deep in the bowels of the Aviva Stadium, there came a sudden ray of light when Rassie Erasmus assured the Munster public that he would definitely honour his contract and remain with the province.

While it wasn't news to the players who had been informed "a few weeks ago", it was the most forthright Erasmus has been on the issue since he has been strongly linked with a return home.

For all that has been achieved in the 10 months since the South African has been in charge, it is difficult to get away from the sense that this is just the beginning.

The defeat to Saracens will sting but what will hurt even more is that for all of the possession (61pc) and territory (65pc) that Munster enjoyed, they never looked like unlocking the English side's defence when it mattered most.

The clock had just ticked into the 24th minute and Tyler Bleyendaal sent a penalty into the corner as Jackson Wray walked to the bin.

Munster won their lineout and Tommy O'Donnell's clever feet in contact created a rare bit of space. They went through the phases but soon realised they were going absolutely nowhere with the ball.

It was a snapshot of their problems all afternoon and while they have been defensively sound this season, their lack of invention in attack was glaring. As for a plan B? Non-existent.

When it works, Munster's game-plan is hugely effective but this was a defeat that proved that there is a hell of a lot of work to be done before they will dine at the top table again.

"Where we are now is probably where Saracens were five years ago," said John Ryan, perfectly summing up Munster's current situation.

Saracens were once the bosh merchants and while it has taken time to develop their game-plan into a formidable all-round weapon, Munster must now do the same.

Time and time again, Saracens could be heard lining Jaco Taute up after the centre was asked to relentlessly carry the ball into a brick wall. It was all too predictable from a Munster team who should have had enough firepower in their outside backline to vary the point of attack.

Munster needed everything to go right but too many of their players "caved under the pressure," according to Ryan.

That said, there is plenty of potential in this team and under Erasmus' guidance, the room for improvement will come as some sort of comfort.

Erasmus was spot on with his assessment that his side are "15 or 20 points behind Saracens at this stage", but the task ahead of next season is to narrow that gap.

When the dust settles, Jacques Nienaber will be disappointed with how easily his normally water-tight defence was carved open because, but for Saracens' inaccuracies, this was a defeat that could have been a whole lot worse.

"We need to make sure we are back here again next year and keep closing that gap until we get a bit of silverware," Ryan continued.

"That's what we need. That's what we want and that's what Munster have always done in the past."

For all of Munster's success down through the years, the latest hard luck story is never too far away but Ryan's journey is a perfect example of this new crop wanting to write their own history.

To the wider public, Ryan's emergence on the international stage this year may have seemed like the Cork native had enjoyed an element of overnight success but this is a 28-year-old who has had to bide his time as he nears 100 appearances for his province.

"I have been at it a long time to get here," Ryan admitted.

"I've been involved in two semi-finals in the past but haven't even gotten on the pitch.

"The amount of experience I will get out of today... the standard I need to get to, playing against a pack who have five Lions in it and I'm up against one of them.

"It lets me know the standard I need to get to and it lets our pack know. I think we're almost there but we caved a bit under the pressure."

Another harsh lesson along the way to what Munster fully believe is their journey back to the top. Erasmus is the man to steer them there but he fully understands the scale of the task on his hands.

"We'll be better in a years' time, and two years' time and three years' time," he confidently stressed.

"We can't just stay with one game-plan and think that will work. It will come good for me."

Few would disagree but, based on Saturday's evidence, adding attacking nuances must now be high on his priority list.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport