Saturday 19 January 2019

Munster braced for 'backlash' in the back yard of the French champions

Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Beware the backlash - that has been the collective message in Munster all week as a wounded Castres side lie in wait on their home turf.

Castres barely fired a shot in Thomond Park last weekend and, in fact, never looked like they even wanted to.

Having struggled to a hard-earned draw at Stade Pierre Fabre last season however, Munster know exactly just how different a proposition the reigning Top 14 champions are in the cauldron in the south of France.

The vociferous home crowd will not stand for the same lack of ambition that Castres showed last weekend and from that end alone, Johann van Graan's side can expect a vastly-improved performance from their hosts.

That said, Munster know that they were not at their clinical best in Limerick with the late withdrawals of Joey Carbery and Chris Farrell disrupting their preparations.

Carbery returns for this evening's clash, as the out-half finally gets the chance to link up with Conor Murray for the first time in a red jersey.

So much is expected of Munster's new-look half-back pairing and going to Castres will provide both Ireland internationals with an extremely tough first assignment.

The French outfit are aware that if they can get at Murray and Carbery, they will nullify the threat of a backline that is still waiting to fire on all cylinders on the big stage.

From that end, it is no surprise to see Rory Kockott return at scrum-half.

The South African-born France international injected some much-needed urgency into Castres' play last week and also got in the faces of the Munster players, with tempers boiling over on more than one occasion.

"They're a proud side, they're a passionate side and we are too, so I think that sometimes comes together and creates a bit of niggle," Murray admitted.

"I suppose it's what every team can handle at their best and not let it distract you that usually comes out.

"There'll be a backlash from last weekend. There was a bit of niggle in the game and it probably distracted us a little bit towards the end when we could have pushed on and got a bonus point. So they'll be firing from last weekend, or reeling from last weekend and we've got to be really task-focused going down there.

"We drew down there last year and we were lucky at certain times down there but also we had opportunities we could have taken. We know it will be completely different, that it will be a much tighter game. You know, it was 13-0 and then we managed to get through a period of them attacking in our 22 and then eventually snuck away and made the scoreboard look a lot better.

"I can see it being a bit tighter down there. Again, their set-piece, their maul, lineout, scrum, especially their scrum they'll be disappointed and they'll be doing an awful lot of work on that this week I presume and it will be a lot tougher."

While Carbery's return is a boost, Van Graan is still unable to name his first-choice starting XV with Jean Kleyn, Chris Farrell and Tommy O'Donnell still on the injury list.

To the head coach's credit, he has never looked to use that as an excuse but the fact remains, if he was able to call on all of his front-line players, Munster would be a different beast.

As it is however, there is plenty of quality within the current starting XV, with no fewer than 13 internationals included for what promises to be a bruising encounter that is unlikely to be that pleasant on the eye.

In recent weeks John Ryan has shown signs that he is returning to his best form, while Tadhg Beirne has now settled in at his new club.

The back-three of Mike Haley, Andrew Conway and Keith Earls have plenty of explosive potential if Carbery and Co can get the trio into the game, but that will be easier said then done against a Castres side who will do everything within their power to make it a scrappy affair with a view to frustrating Munster at every opportunity.

"For us it's about, one, fine-tuning, two, getting our bodies right for another battle, and then three, being fresh in the mind, because we are going to need that to go and get a good performance out of ourselves in the heart of France in the French champions' back yard," Van Graan insisted.

"If our performance is good enough and we deserve a win hopefully we will get that.

"We have got to do everything in our power to get those three things right and hopefully we can put a really good performance in."

Munster are well capable of delivering just that and if they can withstand the inevitable barrage of early pressure, they will take a big step towards what would be a crucial win.

Irish Independent

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