Thursday 18 January 2018

Neil Francis: Munster still has scoring issue to ponder for the quarters

Munster's Rory Scannell fends off So'otala Fa'aso'o. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster's Rory Scannell fends off So'otala Fa'aso'o. Photo: Sportsfile
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

A floral tribute before kick-off but if Racing wanted to show real respect and gain some then they would have to turn up. Hard to know what has happened to them this year. Five points from the pool tells you that their lack of application had an accomplice in indifference. Maybe the white flag was brought to Thomond, but it was never unfurled and they gave a reasonable account of themselves.

O'Gara must have been praying on Friday night that they would do what he had told them to do and make more than a nuisance of themselves in the lion cage. Munster's former out-half can be at least grateful for that. The French, out of the competition after round two, have problems of their own and I have a funny feeling that this drugs scandal is about to boil over. I also wonder about the real reason why Johan Goosen has retired from rugby. Strange shit going down at Stade Colombes.

Munster may have been suffering a little bit from competitive anxiety. They did not play anywhere close to their best yesterday. There wasn't too much uncertainty in their ranks nor was it a casual performance but they really were lacking something. I still have to gauge what their backs are capable of. Their midfield yesterday was static and lacking in ideas. Their passing was staccato and there was no fluency and even when Zebo came into the line he didn't add that much or present the usual his threat.

The problem may have been in Munster's phase play at the breakdown. Munster didn't protect their ball as well as they should have and there were quite a number of poachers in the Racing ranks, particularly Ben Arous and Chat who managed to nick ball and slow it down just enough to make sure that those outside had their space closed off. The bookies were looking at a 23-point spread and that was certainly on but only if Munster started brightly and played close to the Racing line. The first 30 minutes saw Racing give an easy breezy display of resistance. This side can play and they have many very skilled players in their back line but without Carter and Rokocoko they are just lacking the real quality to pierce defences at this level.

Tyler Blyendaal had a pretty average game. You never sensed that he was in control of what came his way and maybe he should have kicked a little bit more. He shovelled passes out when it wasn't really on and some of his looping cut-out passes were really ill-thought-out. Racing's line speed was good and all he was doing was passing pressure onto those outside him. When it became obvious that the French were enjoying themselves territory was the course to choose and instead Munster spent a lot of time playing laterally and getting stuck in midfield and not really having it all their own way at the breakdown as the gamey Parisian side found encouragement for Munster's ineptitude and lack of bite by getting numbers into the breakdown.

Munster were never in any danger of losing this match and if some in the crowd became a little bit uppity they shouldn't have worried. Over an 80-minute period enough would be done. They did not need a bonus-point win - just a win.

Munster did look vulnerable when Racing ran at them in the third quarter but they have only conceded three tries in the pool, which is impressive and really Racing, apart from the try they scored, only had two or three more opportunities where they were never absolutely certain that they had enough joined-up thinking to finish any of these movements.

That will be the foundation stone of this Munster side and how far they progress. Their pack, particularly their tight five, all put in big numbers on the tackle front and even though their back row was not as impressive as they normally are, they did soak up an awful lot of pressure and got stronger as the game went on. I don't want to hex them but it seems to me that their mid five are enjoying a very good run without too much injury and if they present in two months' time, no matter who they've got they will be very difficult to beat.

Andrew Conway had a difficult year or two with injury but his pace and his eye for the ball and his quality in the air is always first class. He is one of the fastest wingers in the country and deceptively strong and the best moment in the game came with his fend on Dulin with a left hand inviting a second tackle and the scooped pop back inside to Keatley to score finished the game.

Munster, when they exert pressure and dominate in their driving and pressure game, will always create space. It was interesting so that a travelling French side who were semi-interested were good enough to stem the flow of tries. That, I feel, will be Munster's Achilles heel - good in every phase and on a mission, but they will need for their backs to be an awful lot more creative and they will need to score tries irrespective of who they have got at home.

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