Monday 18 December 2017

Penney's men need mixture of old and new to secure crucial bonus-point victory

Conor George

Conor George

THE tactics might be new, but the sentiment won't be. The talk all week in the Munster camp has been of how they need to hand Edinburgh an old-fashioned beat-down.

It won't necessarily be pretty, but the hope is it will be effective. Expect Munster to be more direct than they have been all season tomorrow afternoon, no doubt taking heed of Leinster's assertion that the only way to secure a bonus point is to grind Edinburgh down through carrying a lot of ball.

This is going to be a bruiser, the plan being that after Munster have beaten the fight out of Edinburgh, they'll be able to go on to plunder the full five points.

Edinburgh are in a nothing-to-lose situation, which makes them dangerous. They are winless from four European games and are expected to be steamrolled by a Munster side who are very much chasing quarter-final qualification.

As such, they can play with the freedom that sometimes inspires teams to memorable performances. In their last meeting in the Pro12 League, Tim Visser ran in a hat-trick of tries, despite being faced by the vastly experienced Doug Howlett.

It is a sobering thought for a Munster team that desperately need to score a bonus-point win in Murrayfield. Their form this season has been patchy at best. They have been struggling to adapt to life under Rob Penney and Simon Mannix and the players' execution of the open game Penney is attempting to implement has led to some awkward questions.

Are they of the quality to play a more expansive game? Is this new departure too much too soon for a side still very much in transition?

The most pertinent question, though, is this – can Munster win with this formula?

Penney did seem to blink this week when he acknowledged that there is "room to manoeuvre" when discussing how Munster will play the game in the future. The coach should not be criticised for admitting it was time to consider compromise. It makes sense to adjust any playing style to suit the roster and the truth is that Munster are better when they are playing a hybrid of old and new.

James Downey, for example, must be encouraged to do what he does best and carry through the middle. But, no matter the style of game being played, it is incumbent on the players to perform to an acceptable level.

Last Saturday's fare against Cardiff was so bad as to make one wonder if Munster will be able to beat Edinburgh at all, never mind with a bonus point.

The positive, though, has been the reaction in training this week. The mistakes that were so prevalent against Cardiff were conspicuous by their absence during the training runs and, while it is easier to be error-free in training, the players have restored their confidence.

But it is hugely important that Munster take this form into tomorrow's game, especially given how Edinburgh will approach the contest, looking to replicate their defeat of Toulouse last season by frustrating Munster with a solid defensive platform and winning penalties. Allied to the continuous attacking threats of Visser and Douglas Fife on the wings, this is a tactic they use to great effect.

In this regard, Felix Jones, Simon Zebo and Doug Howlett can expect a very busy afternoon under the dropping ball, because Edinburgh will launch countless up-and-unders in an effort to unsettle the back three.

Under Michael Bradley, Edinburgh are not hugely creative. His side covet industry above all else and they will be ferociously competitive at the breakdown, with Stuart McInally and Dimitri Basilaia looking to make nuisances of themselves all day.

Here Peter O'Mahony, Tommy O'Donnell and James Coughlan must be ruthless and disciplined and above all else accurate in everything they do.

Everything depends upon which Munster team shows up. The team that gifted tries and victory to Cardiff can forget about any further progress in the Heineken Cup. The team that dismantled Edinburgh in 10 minutes in the corresponding fixture in Thomond Park and showed the old fiery Munster style with a more modern touch of sophistication, should win the game and if they are patient collect the necessary bonus point. By then, of course, Racing Metro may have turned the Pool on its head by defeating Saracens. Such a result, combined with a bonus-point win for Munster tomorrow, would see them playing to win the pool in Limerick next week.

Verdict: Munster

EDINBURGH – G Tonks; D Fife, B Cairns, M Scott, T Visser; G Laidlaw, R Rees; A Jacobsen, S Lawrie, WP Nel; G Gilchrist, S Cox; S McInally, D Basilaia, D Denton. Reps: A Titterrell, R Hislop, G Cross, N Talei, R Grant, P Francis, B Atiga, S Visser.

MUNSTER – F Jones; D Howlett, K Earls, J Downey, S Zebo; R O'Gara, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, D Varley BJ Botha; D O'Callaghan, D Ryan; P O'Mahony, T O'Donnell, J Coughlan. Reps: M Sherry, W du Preez, S Archer, B Holland, P Butler, D Williams, I Keatley, C Laulala.

REF – R Poite (Fra)

Edinburgh v Munster,

Live, tomorrow, Sky Sports 2, 12.45

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