Monday 19 August 2019

Austin Healey: 'Steady Bleyendaal may suit Munster better than Carbery for Saracens tie'

Tyler Bleyendaal in action for Munster. Photo: Sportsfile
Tyler Bleyendaal in action for Munster. Photo: Sportsfile

Austin Healey

The tale of two 10s, Owen Farrell and Tyler Bleyendaal, will provide a fascinating dynamic to the Saracens v Munster Champions Cup semi-final.

Munster look like they will be without Joey Carbery due to a hamstring injury. This is being painted as a disaster.

Bleyendaal, who steps into his shoes, is steady rather than spectacular. Yet there is a difference between losing your star player midway through a game, which can often drain a team of energy, and preparing for a match without him.

In my experience, that can often galvanise a team. It forces others to step up.

Look at how Tottenham's players, especially Son Heung-min, performed in the absence of Harry Kane against Manchester City.

When you have a player who is seen as a talisman, you can subconsciously come to rely upon him summoning a piece of magic. Without him there, there is no get-out-of jail-free card to play. Carbery has that X-factor talent, but is still developing his organisational skills.

As much as everyone raves about Danny Cipriani being a mercurial playmaker, his real value to Gloucester is in his ability to control and manage a game.

The no-look passes and all the party tricks are just window dressing to the real show.

International Rugby Newsletter

Rugby insights and commentary from our renowned journalists like Neil Francis, Will Slattery, Alan Quinlan & Cian Tracey.

Bleyendaal may actually suit Munster better for a game like this. He understands the game-plan, kicks well and can move sides around.

That becomes more of a threat against a side like Saracens, who are so well drilled defensively that it is going to be a tactical manoeuvre that beats them rather than a piece of individual magic. And a lot of fighting spirit.

If Munster know what they are going to get with Bleyendaal, I am not sure Saracens will know which Farrell is going to turn up.

This is the first game since the birth of his son and that often changes you as a player. After my first daughter was born, I lost my horrible edge. Some would disagree.

By his own admission, Farrell has not had the best start to 2019. Aside from the Ireland game, he has had a few hiccups, most notably against Scotland.

Farrell plays his best rugby when he is not trying to do too much in defence. He is probably the most physical fly-half of his generation, yet he can get too involved in the niggle and that tends to detract from his attacking game.

It is easy to forget how brilliant Farrell can be as an attacking fly-half. That pass to set up England's first try against Ireland was as good as anything Cipriani has produced.

It is not just Farrell who has been off-song. Usually at this stage of the season, Saracens are motoring. This year, they are spluttering.

Defeat against Bristol followed patchy performances against Newcastle and Harlequins. They turned it up a gear for the Glasgow quarter-final, but are still missing that killer consistency.

Munster will be fiendish opposition. They are Saracens' Irish doppelgangers: physical, defensively very strong and with a resolute self-belief.

Home advantage is not going to count for much for Saracens. I expect the Ricoh to turn red with the travelling Munster hordes.

The battle between the back-threes will be crucial. Irish teams tend to be exceptional in the air but in Alex Goode, Liam Williams and Sean Maitland, Saracens have their own aerial assassins.

Again, the control both fly-halves can impart will be decisive. Will we see Farrell grasp the game? Or does Bleyendaal seize his chance?

My hunch says Saracens - just - in what may be one of the lowest-scoring semi-finals in history.

The Throw-In All-Ireland Hurling Final preview: Can Tipp's firepower edge clash with the Cats?

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport