Tuesday 20 March 2018

Munster not the force they once were - Tim Visser

David Kelly

David Kelly

Once pre-eminent in Europe, Munster must again seek to construct an authentic aura.

Thomond Park, so long a fortress, has been undermined as a citadel in recent times.

Should it be stormed once more on Sunday during one of those annoying, somnolent lunchtime kick-offs, no longer will we say that fear attaches itself to away teams in Limerick.

Perhaps it is happening already.

Edinburgh are lurking; so too the man who has scored a blistering hat-trick against Munster already this season; Tim Visser, the Flying Dutchman turned Scottish international.

Ask him whether Munster could exhibit vulnerability on their sacred turf, and his answer demonstrates an absence of the dread that once infected all visitors.

"I'd say so," he says, hardly betraying the fragility of someone whose side suffered a 45-0 home thrashing from Saracens last weekend.

"Since playing them at the start of the season, we know they're not the Munster of the last couple of years. They're not the successful Munster they have been in the last couple of years and that's because of transition.

"At the same time, being Munster, they have brought in some very talented players. We always expect them to have talented players. So we definitely can't underestimate them because of how they're trying to play at the moment and the theories behind it. We need to be careful.

"Munster away would be a great opportunity to turn things around. It's one of the great venues in world rugby."

Speedster Visser, a man who could give Sunday's special guest, Kenyan Olympic 800m champion David Rudisha, a run for his money, has excluded Corkonian coach Michael Bradley from any blame for last week's shocking Murrayfield reverse.

"We've been very frank about what went wrong, players not doing their jobs and making mistakes," says the Pro12 top scorer for the past three seasons.

"In terms of trying to turn it around, it's not a massive thing.

"There's nothing wrong with our systems and what we're trying to achieve. So, theoretically, I suppose we can turn it around pretty quickly. People just need to switch on and be better than they have been."

The chat in Munster training sheds this week will have been eerily familiar. They were undone by vapid individual errors in Paris and, like Edinburgh, they persisted in a muddled tactical approach without, it seems, any off-field guidance or on-field leadership.

But, while Visser readily admits to a lack of leadership aggravating his side's defeat, Munster seem less concerned.

Captain Doug Howlett, charged with marking Visser this weekend, blithely brushes off any unease about on-field mismanagement.

All this despite the plague of errors, particularly when key leaders Paul O'Connell and Ronan O'Gara were absent in the frantic endgame last weekend when his side imploded.

"No," the All Black responds when asked if the marriage of egregious error with experienced campaigners leaving the fray was a worry for him and his team.

"I guess errors are part of what we do. Obviously we try to minimise them but it is not something we have focused on.

"Nobody goes out to intentionally make errors and it is just about how everybody reacts to cover up errors if ones made. That's our focus really."

However, the kernel of the issue remains that far from covering up errors in Paris, Munster compounded them.


With O'Connell uncertain to last 80 minutes, O'Gara absent and a shortage of leaders elsewhere -- unnervingly, despite a team brimming with internationals -- this cannot be allowed to happen on Sunday.

"They were just instances in the game," continues Howlett. "They were probably game-changing but again they were just one-off instances. Having looked through the game again, there were lots of long passages of play where we did really well.

"There is a lot we will learn from it, individually and collectively, and it is just something that can't happen again."

The stakes are too high; albeit Visser stresses that "it's probably too early to say the losers are gone. I wouldn't label it like that but it has a lot resting on it and we need to get something out of it."

Howlett insists on remaining positive.

"This is early in the competition and we are far from beaten here. We have everything to play for, we are making some good strides and our performance on Sunday will steer us straight," he says.

Fine words indeed.

Munster must demonstrate that same unswerving commitment on the field before they can ultimately begin to scatter the nagging doubts that infected them so severely last weekend.

Irish Independent

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