Sunday 13 October 2019

Brendan Fanning: 'Munster lacking game-breakers to secure silverware'

Peter O'Mahony maintained that, as a group, Munster have made great strides since that day in Lansdowne Road. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Peter O'Mahony maintained that, as a group, Munster have made great strides since that day in Lansdowne Road. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Pick one of the following: you lose a game having been well ahead in the second-half with the elements in your favour; you lose a game to a long-range drop goal with the clock in the red; you lose a game to a side at the peak of their powers who give you precious few chances to get into the contest, never mind influence it. Doesn't take that long to settle on number three does it?

And this is what Munster will do. It will take a few days, and there will be pangs of pain from time to time, but the only reason they have for beating themselves up is that the picture presented to Rassie Erasmus in the Champions Cup semi-final two seasons ago looks very much like the picture dropped in the lap of his compatriot, Johann van Graan in Coventry.

Peter O'Mahony maintained that, as a group, Munster have made great strides since that day in Lansdowne Road. Clearly they have a bit to go then.

As for Saracens, they are now one of the greats of this competition, huge influencers in the way Wasps, Toulouse, Munster and Leinster have been at various points in its history. Arno Botha's summation was therefore absolutely on the money.

"We couldn't deal with them in the end," he said. "Credit to them, so congratulations to Sarries."

By the time Botha came on, Saracens' ducks were all in a row and paddling along nicely. Their scrum looked like it could go up a notch if necessary.

Their lineout strategy of giving Munster access to the least attractive option - the front - was working out well.

It's hard to be creative and put the opposition on the back foot if that's your launch pad. And their ability to run through phases in a variety of ways, forcing Munster into almost twice as many tackles, was a key element in the mix. Then there was the battle of the skies.

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How appropriate that this game was played in Coventry, a city that got a ferocious pounding from the Luftwaffe in World War II.

Mike Haley found himself on bomb disposal duty from the outset, and it was a hard station for a man who has never put forward a convincing argument that he is a better option at full-back than the excellent Andrew Conway.

"At times, they won the aerial battle, at the start, and then they were getting gain-line, and once they got that gain-line it was hard to stop them," Botha added.

"We'll probably look back and be disappointed with certain areas. I probably will be myself."

The good news is they won't have to face Saracens again this season. Leinster are the only other side in the PRO14 in that category and it remains to be seen if the paths of Ireland's top two cross again in that competition. The bad news is the pressure is building in Thomond Park for some silverware.

Time was when a Celtic League was poor compensation in that part of the world for missing the target in Europe, but 2011 - their last league success - feels like another lifetime. And they would gratefully be transported back there.

Does Botha feel this group can close a sale? Any sale?

"Of course I do. With the group of players here, I genuinely thought we came here to win and we had a good shot at it. We're disappointed. Hopefully we can do the same again next year to get here and then put in a better performance.

"I'd say we can learn from this, but Munster have been here a few times. It's my second time here and it's not a nice feeling. Every time this does happen, you take a lot away from the losses."

Strengthening the squad always helps. This current group has more depth than any of its predecessors - including the Heineken Cup crew of 2006-2008, who were light enough once you drilled down past the first-choice side - but they are short a couple of game-breakers.

It was critical for Saracens that they had the spine of their side fit, and on a head-to-head, through full-back, half-backs, hooker and No 8, you'd choose all five Saracens over their Munster counterparts on current form. Hard to win when you're up against those odds.

When Munster accept the lopsided nature of the day, they will feel a bit better about themselves. It might take a while though.

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