Thursday 19 April 2018

Munster centres of excellence: The men who are driving Champions Cup ambitions

Sam Arnold of Munster is tackled by Ma'a Nonu of RC Toulon
Sam Arnold of Munster is tackled by Ma'a Nonu of RC Toulon
Arnold reads Ashton’s run and puts on the afterburners, which allows him to stop the English man just short of the line, which lifted the decibel levels as well as the morale amongst the Munster players.
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

After withstanding 77 minutes of brutal physicality, a battered and bruised Sam Arnold wasn't about to throw in the towel.

Blood spewed from a cut on his head - the bandage momentarily stemming the flow. His black-and-blue left eye began to close as if he had just gone 12 rounds with Mike Tyson, yet Arnold beat his chest as if to ask the Toulon behemoths: 'is that all you've got?'

It was the kind of fearless performance that Arnold has always promised to deliver on the big stage, and it was built from his hugely impressive centre partnership with Rory Scannell.

When doubts hung over several Munster players last week, arguably the greatest concern was Scannell - simply because he is the glue that is keeping the midfield together.

With Chris Farrell and Jaco Taute out injured, extra responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of Scannell and he has thrived under the pressure.

The 24-year-old has clearly benefited from the amount of time he spent in Carton House during the Six Nations, while so too did his centre partner Arnold.

Debut

Although still uncapped, Arnold looks like a certainty to make his Ireland debut on the summer tour to Australia.

Of Munster's centres, who, if fit, would realistically have been in with a chance of starting a Champions Cup quarter-final, Scannell and Arnold are the smallest and lightest possible midfield pairing.

Giving up a combined 37kg to two of the biggest centres in world rugby, Ma'a Nonu and Mathieu Bastareaud, and not to mention 145 international caps, the Munster duo were immense in a performance that was mature beyond their years.

Munster rode their luck at times at Thomond Park, but you often earn that rub of the green, and the home side used that to their full advantage.

Just after five minutes, their defence got stretched in the wide left channel and Semi Radradra really should have put Chris Ashton in for a try.

But as shown in graphic (1), Arnold reads Ashton's run and puts on the afterburners, which allows him to stop the English man just short of the line, which lifted the decibel levels as well as the morale amongst the Munster players. A feature of Scannell and Arnold's defending against their bigger opponents was their double tackling. Time and time again, one player would go low and the other high.

51 SPORT MUNSTER 1 121.jpg
Arnold reads Ashton’s run and puts on the afterburners, which allows him to stop the English man just short of the line, which lifted the decibel levels as well as the morale amongst the Munster players.

In (2), they combine brilliantly (with help from Peter O'Mahony) to take Bastareaud down before Radrada suffered the same fate (4) in the second half.

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Scannell and Arnold combine brilliantly (with help from Peter O’Mahony) to take Bastareaud down.
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Scannell and Arnold again combine to take down Radrada in the second half.

The understanding that is developing between Scannell and Arnold was one of the many positives to come from Saturday's stunning victory.

The double hits were indicative of that, while on several occasions they were on hand to cover each other.

On the one occasion that the pair became disconnected, Toulon ruthlessly exploited Munster.

As we can see in (5), there is a mismatch in midfield, with Billy Holland positioned where Scannell would usually be.

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There is a mismatch in midfield, with Billy Holland positioned where Scannell would usually be. On this occasion however, the inside centre has stayed in the back field, out of shot.

On this occasion however, the inside centre has stayed in the back field, out of shot.

Francois Trinh-Duc spots the mismatch and draws Holland in. Arnold opts to fold out to the right which creates the gap for Bastareaud to run through, which leads to Ashton's try.

It was a rare moment when Munster had lost their defensive shape, but it just goes to show how effective Scannell and Arnold were when they held firm in the middle.

Toulon's threats are such that they were always going to ask questions of the Munster defence and how they coped with that would determine who advanced to the last four.

Ten minutes after the restart, the deceptively-quick Arnold put in another important cover tackle (with help from Alex Wootton), this time on Radradra (3).

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Ten minutes after the restart, the deceptively-quick Arnold put in another important cover tackle (with help from Alex Wootton), this time on Radradra.

But the Fijian flyer managed to get his hands free, however, and offloaded to Ashton. Suddenly Arnold needs help and right on cue, Scannell (yellow circle) arrived on the scene and buried Ashton into touch to quell the danger.

The pair ended up making 10 tackles each in one of the most memorable defensive displays from a Munster team in recent years.

Johann van Graan will need more of the same from Scannell and Arnold against Racing if Munster are to reach a fifth European Cup final.

 

Reds' midfield men

Rory Scannell

Age: 24

Weight: 98kg

Height: 1.78m

Test Caps: 3

 

Sam Arnold

Age: 21

Weight: 93kg

Height: 1.80m

Caps: 0

 

Chris Farrell

Age: 25

Weight: 110kg

Height: 1.93m

Caps: 3

 

Jaco Taute

Age: 27

Weight: 110kg

Height: 1.88m

Caps: 3 (South Africa)

 

Dan Goggin

Age: 23

Weight: 100kg

Height: 1.85m

Caps: 0

Irish Independent

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