Monday 18 December 2017

Reds revolution has a long way to go with changing of the guard

UnMunster-like loss a harsh reality check, writes Jim Glennon

It's no longer a case of business as usual for Munster. Yesterday's performance in Stade de France demonstrated all the signs of a team in the throes of transition as they gifted victory from the jaws of defeat to a relatively ordinary, and somewhat disbelieving, Racing Metro outfit.

A virtuoso try from winger Simon Zebo in the 75th minute, converted by Ian Keatley, had positioned Munster perfectly; all that was needed was their trademark shutout. Business as usual.

What followed was as unMunster-like as the make-up of their team for that crucial five minutes. Shorn of all the retired big names of the golden era, the remaining talismen -- Ronan O'Gara and Paul O'Connell -- had also left the field. Their absence was more than symbolic too. It's difficult indeed to imagine events unfolding as they did were either of them still on the pitch.

Only scrumhalf Conor Murray knows what he was trying to achieve when he gifted the match-winning penalty to Racing's Olly Barkley.

To make matters worse for the current incumbent in the national team, it was the regrettable culmination of a day he already had plenty of reasons to forget. While most of the attention will focus on those disastrous closing minutes, the reality is that Munster should have been out of sight before half-time.

Starting most impressively, they had blown their opponents away, particularly up front.

An apparent, to the naked eye at least, try by O'Connell was disallowed, correctly, by the TMO and, within minutes, what should have been 17-3 became 10-all when sloppy Munster handling facilitated an easy try at the posts for scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud.

The French visibly grew in confidence, and, dare it be said, enthusiasm, from there and began to achieve some success in their efforts to disrupt the momentum of their inexperienced visitors.

From a point where the Munster scrum had been comfortable, their lineout smoothly productive, and their back-row ensuring an adequate supply for O'Gara to perform well within coach Rob Penney's game-plan, the freshly fired-up French revelled in the atrocious conditions and, without threatening to overwhelm the scoreboard, managed to eke out a crucial lead through a couple of penalties, until Zebo's intervention.

The depth of the challenge ahead for Munster may well have been underestimated, and there's now a struggle to come to terms with the full extent of the predicament.

It was indeed ironic that the prevalent conditions in Paris were more akin to what one would expect from a December day in Thomond, and were singularly unconducive to Penney's basic strategy.

At times, O'Gara seemed torn between his own foot-based instincts and those, more hand-based, of his coach, not least in the passage of play leading to the concession of the equalising try.

Keatley on the other hand, seemed more comfortable, although not with his scrum-half Murray. One wonders too whether the coach, having seen the weather conditions, may have regretted some of his selected combinations.

The transition process was never going to be either brief or easy.

Difficult decisions remain, not least in relation to the outhalf position. Patience will be at a premium, on the part of all.

Sunday Indo Sport

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