Saturday 25 November 2017

Inconsistency gives captain O'Connell cause for concern

Munster's Conor Murray gets away from Damian Welch, left, and Ben Morgan
Munster's Conor Murray gets away from Damian Welch, left, and Ben Morgan
David Kelly

David Kelly

Munster head into the new year and the defining rounds of Heineken Cup Pool 1 with their destiny firmly within their grasp, if not entirely in control of all aspects of their game.

However, corrective surgery is always more satisfactorily undertaken accompanied by a winning habit.

"It's satisfying winning games," reports captain Paul O'Connell, after emerging from a relatively subdued dressing-room still reeling from their improbable final-quarter collapse.

"That's it and that's all you've got to do. You can play all the fabulous rugby in the world, but if you're not winning it's not much good to anyone.

"We're doing a lot of things really well. We've just got to do them really well for 80 minutes more consistently. If we can do that we can be a really good side in this competition."

Munster are traditionally hard on themselves, though, and O'Connell conceded the frailties that allowed Scarlets regain the momentum after seemingly seeing the game slip away from them following James Coughlan's try and the binning of Jonathan Edwards in the 52nd minute.

"It was plain to see that we did a lot of very good things, but we were our own worst enemies at times.

"You've got to make those tackles and we've got to exit our own half of the pitch a little bit better at times, particularly when we went 19-6 ahead.

"We probably needed to play the game a bit more down there and put them under a bit of pressure, and we didn't always do that.

"We knocked on balls, we conceded possession and turned over the ball and it just puts you under a lot of pressure."

Still, the bald facts show that Munster remain in charge of their own destiny, notwithstanding the fact that their hand is a little less steady on the tiller as of yore.

"It's hard to say really, because with four wins from four you'd think we've been really dominant, but we haven't been," added O'Connell.

"Every game has been really tight, they've been very narrow winning margins in all of them so we won't be getting ahead of ourselves. It's kind of a strange pool, in that everyone is capable of beating everyone.

"You look at what Castres did to Northampton (last weekend) and Northampton nearly won the tournament last season, so those are our two games coming up and they're going to be two very tough games.

"We know as well as anyone how tight they've been and we could easily be in a lot worse situation here. So we've just got to keep our heads down and make sure we fight for everything again in early January."

Scarlets' coach Nigel Davies bemoaned his side's inexperience, both in not maximising their early dominance in creating numerous overlaps and in the game's death throes when crucial errors undermined the clear, unexpected shift in momentum.

"There were a couple of big 50-50 calls which could have gone our way," said Davies, whose side could conceivably still nab a quarter-final place and another meeting with Munster.

"This place is an inspiring place and it can be quite daunting for the officials. And you don't get 50-50 calls.

"Munster are a good side. They know how to get those wins and they've done that constantly through the years.

"My frustration is that we have to make that step up to come to places like this to beat quality sides like Munster.

"I think we're playing the kind of rugby to do that, we're just not getting those breaks. That's a big factor. Munster have that experience and that allows them to benefit from those key moments."

Irish Independent

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