Munster wary of Gloucester having inside track on them

Gerbrandt Grobler (left) will be hoping to disrupt the Reds’ lineout – just like he did against Castres – when he returns to Thomond Park with Gloucester on Saturday. Photo: Getty

Cian Tracey

In the week leading up to last season's Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Racing, Munster insisted they would not change their calls despite the presence of Donnacha Ryan looming large at every lineout.

Munster lost four of their own throws that afternoon in Bordeaux, which must surely have made them wonder whether they should have done more to avoid the Tipperary native spoiling so much of their possession at the set-piece.

Johann van Graan's side face a similar conundrum this week, and while Gerbrandt Grobler's one season with the club is some way short of the service that Ryan gave to his home province, they must be mindful of the same pitfalls against Gloucester.

Just as Munster do, the English side currently have a strong South African influence at the club.

In Johan Ackermann, Gloucester have a head coach who played 13 times for the Springboks.

Like Grobler, who is at the heart of his new team's pack, Ackermann served a two-year doping ban when he was found guilty of using a prohibited anabolic steroid, which cost him two years out of the game in 1997.

Munster's new defence coach JP Ferreira, who deserves huge praise for his side's impressive display against Exeter last weekend, worked with Ackermann for several years in Super Rugby with the Lions.

The pair masterminded the South African outfit's first appearance in a Super Rugby final in 2016 and followed it up by reaching another final the following year.

Between having Grobler on their books and Ackermann's knowledge of Ferreira's systems, Gloucester will feel that they have a good handle on what to expect on Saturday.


Knowing what to expect and counteracting it in a place like Thomond Park are two very different prospects, however.

"You've got to be conscious that 'GG' will know our lineout calls," Van Graan admitted.

"But it's the same as when we played against Racing; there's players that have been here before and moved on.

"I think it will all be about Gloucester for them. If you worry too much about the opposition, you might make mistakes of your own.

"Looking at all the games in Europe, bar one it's all been 10 points or less, so your discipline, field position and use of your opportunities are crucial. Some teams conceded cards and got punished heavily, your set-piece has got to be good and you've got to be there at the end of the game.

"All of the games have gone down to the wire so we're not looking to change a lot this week. It's all about our performance and following our process through the week."

Ferreira hasn't been in the spotlight much since he joined Munster mid-season last year but his reputation was enhanced by last Saturday's resilient effort from his players.

In South Africa, he is well respected and while Gloucester might feel that they have the inside track on Munster, Van Graan will be hoping to tap into Ferreira's knowledge of how Ackermann likes to set up his teams.

"JP is very good friends with Johan, they were on the same management team for a very long time," the Munster boss said.

"They both went to two Super Rugby finals together so the two of them will know each other very well.

"Johan is a fantastic man with a calming influence, he loves an attacking brand of rugby, you can see the different way that Gloucester have been playing over the last season. I believe a lot of it is down to him.

"They always have their trick plays around the lineout. They had that at the Lions as well. He is just a good human being, a very good coach. I believe he has made a big difference at Gloucester."

The Premiership side dug in well to get their Champions Cup campaign off to a winning start against Castres, but there wasn't an awful lot from their performance that Munster will fear coming up against.

Grobler has picked up where he left off at the end of last season with Munster and has put in some powerful displays for his new side, which has Van Graan very wary of the threat that he and his team-mates pose.

"I think at the end of the campaign he did really well," Van Graan maintained.

"I thought he played really well against Ulster in that home game, he came off the bench a few times and made a big difference, like in that semi-final against Leinster.

"He's a quality player with ability around the lineout. You've got to watch the way he catches a kick-off, he's brilliant at that, and his offloading. He's a quality player and I think that's why Gloucester bought him.

"GG was obviously here at Munster and Jaco Kriel is a player I respect a lot, I coached him at the Springboks.

"Franco Marais was at the Sharks, so I kind of know these guys but I think there's more to Gloucester than just the South African influence.

"We're under no illusions about what awaits us on Saturday. They have the second highest ball-in-play after Exeter in the Premiership, they like to hold onto the ball as well. They do it in a different way to Exeter but this will be a real test."