Friday 18 October 2019

Neil Francis: Competitive Munster huff and puff but it's the ice-cool Blues who keep their composure

Both Irish provinces will need to up their game ahead of Europe next week, says Neil Francis

‘Joey Carbery played with invention but found his options limited and his passing game evaporated in the second half and quite possibly he took a few lazy options’. Photo: Seb Daly
‘Joey Carbery played with invention but found his options limited and his passing game evaporated in the second half and quite possibly he took a few lazy options’. Photo: Seb Daly
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

This one was a bit like telling your kid brother to give it his best shot. The kid brother refuses because he knows he's going to get beat anyway. You make him an offer he can't refuse: "I'll tie my arm behind my back." Can't say any fairer than that. Go on - give it your best shot.

Munster were competitive and even thought their way through how they should go about winning this game and kept the challenge going for the full 80 minutes. But they just weren't clever enough. They weren't forceful enough and Leinster were proficient in dealing with them. The side in red couldn't ramp up continuous momentum, despite an astonishing time in possession, and time spent in the Leinster half.

Once again, the stats make a mockery of the game that we saw yesterday. We saw it too earlier in Pretoria when the Springboks owned the ball against New Zealand, particularly in the first half. Munster, for their European adventure next week in Sandy Park against Exeter, will find that the West Country men just do not give the ball away to anyone.

In terms of a fair fight, well Leinster did have their arm tied firmly behind their back. If you had Scott Fardy, Garry Ringrose, Tadhg Furlong, Jordan Larmour and Jonathan Sexton playing yesterday, the scoreline would have been vastly different. Maybe the way Leinster are happy to play the game out might be one reason why it was only an eight-point margin in the end.

It is true that Conor Murray was not playing yesterday; had he been fit Munster undoubtedly would have played him. That said, Alby Mathewson was probably the best player on the park and has been an astute signing. His try on the left-hand side from a scrum on the Leinster five-metre line, showed great speed of thought. Where Leinster packed their defenders to the other side of the scrum, Mathewson showed admirable pace and an eye for the gap for a 33-year-old.

This was a high-quality game and the error count was low and what was pleasing was that, despite the extraordinary intensity and the lack of space or time to do constructive things, the skillset did not suffer under this type of pressure.

I do hope that Leinster do not decide to defend their way to victory as they put both of their titles on the line. They know how to score but there seems to have been a change in policy where they put a greater emphasis on closing teams down. The pressure they apply means that a lot of opponents are worn out mentally and physically in the last 15 minutes and so from the time Mathewson scored in the 66th minute, Munster never looked like they had the composure to maintain any sort of a challenge.

Joey Carbery played with invention but found his options limited and his passing game evaporated in the second half and quite possibly he took a few lazy options; opting for the cross-kick when there were no other options left to him.

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It is terrible to see him in a red jersey. It is like your old girlfriend walking around the place with an engagement ring from the bloke in town that you hate the most. You still love her, but you can't bring yourself to look at her anymore.

James Ryan only got on the ball infrequently and maybe he was lacking in some of those dynamic assist or clear-outs, or some of those incredible interventions. But then you find out he made 18 tackles and didn't miss any and you think maybe that's just the type of game it was.

Dan Leavy had a quiet enough game but 16 tackles and a change of position maybe dictated that he wasn't as prominent as he normally is. Seán O'Brien had a big game and was very physical as his maturity shone through. CJ Stander and Peter O'Mahony also had big games for Munster. God knows how Joe Schmidt is going to pick his back-row. Josh van der Flier also looked incredibly sharp and once again it was Leinster's bench who made sure that they closed out the deal in the last quarter.

Normally both sides would require a different dynamic heading into the Champions Cup. Munster are normally deep in the midst of a full-blown crisis. Leinster usually go in on the back of a scintillating performance and the men in blue are humming.

Both sides are a long way off their traditional pre-European form but Leinster have gears which they can turn on like a light switch. The performance from Munster yesterday was as good as it gets in a pressure game, against a quality side. They could struggle badly next week.

PS: Willie le Roux went off in the Test in Pretoria yesterday with a HIA and did not return. It will be interesting to see if he starts next Friday for Wasps in the RDS.

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