Thursday 22 March 2018

Today's three key areas . . .


Munster's scrum is getting stronger and stronger as BJ Botha's (right) injury-free run of form has helped him form a solid front-row combination with Damien Varley and Wian du Preez.

He sometimes struggles against opponents like Soane Tonga'uiha and, with Romain Poite's laissez-faire approach to scrums -- if you're moving forward, you're winning -- Botha will be under pressure to lock down from scrum one.

"This week will be the toughest test for our improving scrum," says captain Paul O'Connell. "Northampton have an excellent scrum, very clever tactically."

The absence of Chris Ashton robs Northampton of a portion of their searing pace but Ben Foden and Vasily Artemyev are no slouches.

"We gave them a bit of pace and allowed them run at us in the first game," says Munster full-back Denis Hurley. "And that's when they're most dangerous.

"A lot of it is to control the ball we allow them, that when we kick to them we kick to them on our terms and it's not kicking long for the sake of it, that we're finding grass and to make sure they're turning and coming back. If we allow them to get pace on it, that's when they're very dangerous."

Tom Wood's absence for Northampton is a major blow but then Munster are on their fourth openside this season and Peter O'Mahony will not be lacking in motivation, depending on his interpretation of Declan Kidney's catch-all Six Nations squad announcement.

Linked directly to Munster's difficulties behind the scrum this season has been a noticeable lack of consistent physicality and efficiency at the breakdown; this work must improve if they are to have any chance of success today.

Roger Wilson's ball-carrying has continued to be a notable feature of the Saints' best work and James Coughlan will need to match the Ulsterman in this regard.

And, after the English complaints in round one, they will be keen to put pressure on Poite at every opportunity when Munster are on the floor; his testy historic relationship with O'Connell could be a factor once more.

Irish Independent

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