Friday 19 January 2018

Howlett confident Munster can bounce back with bonus

Conor George

Conor George

MUNSTER'S storied history is littered with examples of how a chastening defeat has been used to optimum effect in their preparations for Heineken Cup adventures.

Their standout European performance of recent seasons came against Northampton Saints in the 2009/10 quarter-final when they smashed the Premiership side 33-19 at Thomond Park in a game Munster were tipped to lose.

Their build-up game on that occasion was a 16-15 defeat to Leinster at home. The training ground in the week prior to the Northampton game was a veritable battleground.

Munster don't take defeat lightly, something captain Doug Howlett was quick to seize upon in the aftermath of Saturday's unacceptable loss to Cardiff Blues in Cork.

"There'll be huge disappointment on the back of that performance and result," said Howlett. "That edge will be carried into next weekend's game because back-to-back losses are something Munster doesn't accept and we'll be looking to right that this next week."

There is certainly a lot to address for Munster this week, not least the way they play the game and the fact that they need to chase tries against Edinburgh. It is not enough for Munster to just win Sunday's game, they need to do so scoring a minimum of four tries for a bonus-point win.

Based on Saturday's toothless performance, where those tries are going to come from is the question that is most pressing for Munster. Their policy of shovelling the ball wide at every opportunity is simply not working for them for now, although they did beat Edinburgh with a bonus point in the corresponding European fixture in Limerick back in October.

Howlett is confident that with a good week's training behind the side and a little more focus, they can score the tries needed this weekend.

"We can score tries," he stated. "And we've already shown during the season that we can score tries.

"The tries usually come after a few phases. Teams are usually very solid defensively for the first couple of phases and it's after you wear them down that the cracks appear.

"We have shown the ability to do that this season. Our issue against Cardiff was that we made so many unforced errors (29) that we weren't able to get past two or three phases of play. That's what really undid us.

"For the style of game we want to play, the two things we cannot afford are high penalty counts and high error counts. We were let down by individual errors against Cardiff, ironically on a night when our discipline was improved."

Munster are hugely fortunate that the opposition this weekend is an Edinburgh side they were able to trample on in Thomond Park (33-0) in the first round of Heineken Cup matches, although Howlett insists they are taking nothing for granted.

That he was in direct opposition to Tim Visser when the winger scored a hat-trick of tries against them in the Celtic League is a hugely relevant issue for Howlett.

"They have dangerous players all over the park and we're certainly not taking them lightly. I watched them against Leinster on Friday night and they put up a right good fight in the first half of that game.

"They have improved from that first European game and we know we're going to be in for a real battle in Murrayfield on Sunday," Howlett added.

It is instructive when assessing Munster's chances of a four-try victory this weekend to reference that, while Howlett has been one of their standout players, he has scored just two tries in 15 games and only one of those was in European competition.

Munster need him and Simon Zebo (three tries in 10 games) attacking the Edinburgh line and in the hunt for tries if they are to achieve their goal of two wins, a minimum of eight tries and 10 points.

Irish Independent

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