Sunday 20 January 2019

Munster will require cool heads for fiery Castres clash

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

Cian Tracey

Castres arrived in Limerick with the intention of not playing much rugby, but the French side were adamant they were going to make life as frustrating as possible for their hosts.

Considering Castres are the current Top 14 champions, the lack of ambition they played with, especially against a Munster side who were nowhere near their best, summed up their typical attitude towards Europe.

It was a spiky contest that, even though it lacked a major flashpoint, had plenty of tetchy moments that bore all the hallmarks of two teams, who have met each other more than any other in the competition.

It didn't take a lip leader to work out some of the verbals that were exchanged throughout and as Munster head to France this weekend for the return game, you can be sure that Castres will not be rolling out the red carpet ahead of their arrival.

Conceding eight penalties at home will not sit well with Johann van Graan, who will have recognised that Castres, who conceded 13, were doing everything in their power to drag his players down to their level.

Threat One would expect Castres to offer much more of an attacking threat in their own back yard, but there won't be any change in their attempts to lure Munster into a scrap.

From that end, cool heads will be required in the French cauldron and English referee Wayne Barnes will have a job on his hands to keep both teams in check. Widely regarded as one of the best in the business, the Munster players will know exactly what Barnes demands, particularly around the breakdown.

Munster's discipline has been something of a concern in this season's Champions Cup as they have conceded an average of almost 12 penalties in their three pool games.

It's an issue that will surely be driven to be fixed by the likes of captain Peter O'Mahony, who has come back into the squad from Carton House, where Joe Schmidt demands squeaky clean discipline.

Van Graan presumably wants the same from his players and against the better teams, Munster will be punished if they don't eradicate the sloppy penalty concessions.

"We knew it was going to be an arm wrestle," JJ Hanarahan admitted. "It was the exact same last year when we played them at home. We were trying to back our tempo and fitness to take them later in the game. We said we could win it later in the game as opposed to the first 30. We probably could have been a bit smarter there in the backline. We'll study that and go again.

"We're going to their back garden now. It's a French side, full of passion, full of emotion. They're Top 14 champions. It's a hard place to go. We went there last year and got a draw. It was a very hard game."

Irish Independent

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