Wednesday 13 December 2017

Munster need to polish rough diamonds

Munster 10 Saracens 26

Keith Earls is tackled by Saracen’s Owen Farrell. Photo: RAMSEY CARDY/SPORTSFILE
Keith Earls is tackled by Saracen’s Owen Farrell. Photo: RAMSEY CARDY/SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

Honesty of effort and endeavour presaged Munster's Champions Cup semi-final defeat in Dublin.

To engineer a return to the stage to which they feel they belong, a similar honesty must now follow it.

The initial signs are encouraging.

To a man, players and coaches freely acknowledged the vast gulf that separated these two sides, not only displayed in the 80 minutes but in the general snapshot of their respective developments.

While Saracens are in year seven of their European journey, Munster are merely in month seven.

Even Rassie Erasmus conceded that their approach was "boring" but, for a half of rugby, that saw them trail by the minimum margin, it had proven to be sufficient unto the day. Sufficient, that is, until suffocation followed in the second-half aftermath.

Vincent Koch celebrates as referee Romain Poite awards Saracens their first try. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Vincent Koch celebrates as referee Romain Poite awards Saracens their first try. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Saracens, aside from two glorious attacking plays in either half that should have earned them two tries, were content to adjust their defensive alignment and thus negate Munster's incessant aerial bombardment from the boots of Duncan Williams and Tyler Bleyendaal.

Read more - Munster player ratings: Halfback struggles sum up frustrating day for Erasmus' men

And, when their kicking returns diminished exponentially, they had neither the invention nor the wit to implement a different attacking strategy; simply because they have not yet got that far in their development.

Saracens were always capable of stepping up a gear; they didn't need to because Munster were incapable of doing so themselves.

Stephen Archer is tackled by Mako Vunipola of Saracens. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Stephen Archer is tackled by Mako Vunipola of Saracens. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

What is fit for purpose in league fare was simply not sustainable at this exalted level of competition and, just as Ireland had to move on from the limited game-plan that was once good enough to win a Six Nations, but not necessarily to beat the All Blacks, so too Munster must now broaden their horizons.

"If we've come this far in nine, 10 months? If you go back and see how far Saracens came in eight, nine, 10 months when they were starting out, I think we're pretty much really close to where we want to be," adds Erasmus, whose determination to see out his term is a huge vote of confidence.

"We'll be better in a year's time, and two years' time and three years' time. We will be better, but you're right, we have to get more, what is it, strings in our bow? Arrows, more options. We can't just stay with one game-plan and think that will work. You're right."

Re-focus

Simon Zebo has viewed such a change with Ireland and agrees that this is now where Munster must seek to re-focus. "You know we probably didn't adapt on time on the pitch and that is probably a learning experience for us as a whole as a squad. We have the other strings to our bow, I am fully convinced of it and we probably just didn't adapt to it on the time on the pitch and that is the way it goes.

Munster's Simon Zebo looks for a way past Brad Barritt. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster's Simon Zebo looks for a way past Brad Barritt. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

"We are where we want to be, we are competing for trophies and we are top four in Europe."

CJ Stander put it more starkly. "We need to play some good rugby and a step up to another level. We need to make it easier for ourselves to get to that level."

Erasmus referred to the old saying that diamonds are created from pressure and, after wilting under its most severest strain here by the irrepressible men from England, his team of rough diamonds must now add some sparkle.

Munster - S Zebo; A Conway, J Taute (F Saili 55), R Scannell, K Earls (D Sweetnam 64); T Bleyendaal (I Keatley 71), D Williams; D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 52), N Scannell (R Marshall 60), J Ryan (S Archer 64); D Ryan, B Holland; P O'Mahony (capt) (D O'Callaghan 52), T O'Donnell (J Deysel 50), CJ Stander.

Munster players Billy Holland, John Ryan, Duncan Williams and Peter O'Mahony look on after the final whistle. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster players Billy Holland, John Ryan, Duncan Williams and Peter O'Mahony look on after the final whistle. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Saracens - A Goode; C Ashton, M Bosch (A Lozowski 75), B Barritt (capt), S Maitland (C Wyles 62); O Farrell, R Wigglesworth (B Spencer 72); M Vunipola (T Lamositele 72), J George (S Brits 50), V Koch (P Du Plessis 72); M Itoje (J Hamilton 75), G Kruis; M Rhodes, J Wray (S Burger 55), B Vunipola.

Ref - R Poite (FFR)

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