Tuesday 21 November 2017

George Hook: Schmidt might profit by telling O'Driscoll to keep his mouth shut

George Hook

George Hook

The Heineken Cup is barely into its second week and already the pot is bubbling like the witches' brew in Macbeth. This weekend could, indeed, mean double, double toil and trouble for Munster and Leinster.

Rob Penney and Joe Schmidt had different problems during the week, and the Leinster boss might profit by telling his star centre to button his lip.

Before last week, Brian O'Driscoll was already talking about the final next May in the Aviva and expressing certainty about a win against Exeter. Not for the first time in his career was his excessive optimism misplaced.

Then, there were stories of a move to Australia at the end of the season. As if he would at this stage jeopardise the big Revenue payback on retirement!

He might stick on a 'golden oldies' compilation in his head phones and listen to the Peter, Paul and Mary line, 'when will they ever learn?'

Last weekend saw some dreadful refereeing, and Irishman Peter Fitzgibbon has effectively been told that he got it wrong in his dismissal of Scarlets wing Morgan Stoddart (who has avoided a ban), which may well have skewed the result against Clermont.

Simon Easterby's team will be a handful at home and, if Leinster are to get a result, they will have to win the battle up front. The Exeter experience demonstrated that forward dominance is not a given with this Leinster outfit. The absence of Sean O'Brien is huge -- the team has no comparable ball-carrier -- while the vital engine room is deficient in power.

As Leo Cullen heads towards the end of a worthwhile career, yet again the Leinster think-tank has come up with sub-standard options. Devin Toner and Damian Browne were never the answer and the latest signings, Quinn Roux and Tom Denton, look unlikely to do the job either.

It will be no surprise if it is another close-run thing. The Scarlets' back line is at least the equal of Leinster's and, as we saw in the Pro12, the Welsh team play fast, attacking rugby, which resembles very much the style and belief of Schmidt. It could, thus, be an attractive contest.

There may not be a four-try bonus-point win for either team, but the visitors might come home with just one point if the pack does not tough it out.

Munster's problems are bigger and may be less fixable. Penney, despite his optimistic press conferences, knows that. If he does not establish control at half- back tomorrow, even an average side like Edinburgh could be a handful.

After weeks of uncritical assessment of Ian Keatley, the Irish analysts could not bring themselves to face the truth about Munster's defeat in Paris. Simply put, Racing Metro had a pair of half-backs and Munster did not. The age-old maxim of rugby held good -- half-backs decide games.

This week, the coach mentioned that his half-backs were doing more kicking practice. I suggest he looks at his NZRFU Level One coaching manual, where the difference between skill and technique is explained.

Keatley and Conor Murray have the 'technique' to kick the ball, but they do not have the 'skill' of knowing when, where and how.

Does anybody doubt that after Simon Zebo's converted try had put Munster into a one-point lead, his team would have closed out the result had Ronan O'Gara been on the pitch?

Rugby's version of Conn of a Hundred Battles would have had the French wriggling like a body on the gibbet at Tyburn in the 17th century.

The coach has at least admitted the error of his ways by restoring Mike Sherry at hooker. That change -- aided by the arrival of Donncha O'Callaghan -- means that at least the line-out should function.


The scrum, however, may face another stern examination, even if the coach feels that his young prop Dave Kilcoyne was the victim of some poor refereeing. He clearly forgot about the generous treatment in the early stages of last week's contest.

Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley has a strong front-row at his disposal -- they tested Leinster in this area at the RDS a few weeks ago.

Edinburgh arrive with five changes and their back-row will present a serious challenge. Fiji captain Netani Talei is selected at No 8 and the outstanding Stuart McInally is at openside, with David Denton at No 6. It will test a Munster unit that has not looked cohesive this season.

For all Munster's new style, they do not look very penetrative without Keith Earls and an attacking option at full-back. Side-to-side may look pretty, but the team needs a line-breaker. Zebo and Doug Howlett cannot carry the attacking load alone.

Thomond Park will not be full and the result may not be pretty, but the prospect of being hanged in the morning concentrates the mind wonderfully. Probably a home win without a bonus point.

Irish Independent

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