Sunday 17 December 2017

Downey pleased to see 'fog lift'

Conor George

Conor George

IN the 1997 movie 'The Game', starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn, in one of the last scenes an extra quotes Scripture to Douglas' main character.

Specifically he quotes John 9:25: "whereas once I was blind, now I can see."

James Downey has described the improvement in Munster's play at the weekend as being akin to having the fog lift from the players' eyes.

It's as if suddenly they have their sight back and they are seeing the gaps in the opposition defences that they had been blind to earlier in the season because they were so focused on getting the ball as wide as possible.

That slavish shovelling of the ball was absolutely counter-productive. It was horrible to watch and was exceptionally easy to defend against because teams very quickly realised all they had to do was shadow the players in possession and eventually Munster would run out of grass.

It was spectacularly ugly in the game against Scarlets in Musgrave Park in November when Munster ran the ball into touch almost a dozen times, so intent were they on getting the ball as wide as possible on every play.

attitude

There was a discernible shift in tactics and attitude against Connacht on Saturday night.

Munster still went wide on occasion. They mauled their first three line-outs, which is a first this season, and there was definitely more variety to their play, with players willing to attack the gaps more readily.

"I think there is a little bit of the fog lifting," admits centre Downey.

"Everyone has a solid understanding of how we're playing now, which is crucial. I think there were a couple of questions where people were unsure and that was showing in how we were playing.

"On the pitch one or two lads were missing a call or passing up an opportunity to ensure we got the ball wide.

"We (players) were forcing it too much I think. It certainly wasn't coming from the coaching staff that we 'had to' get the ball wide. We were forcing it on the pitch and were passing up good opportunities as a result.

"Then we'd come into the meetings and Rob would say: 'why were you going wide when there is obviously a hole here?'. Lads were like: 'Oh we thought we were supposed to...'

"Now it's when it's on, we go for the space. If the space is out wide, that's where we go. If the space is in the middle or after phase one or two or three, then that's where we are going."

No one in Munster is discounting their chances of barging their way into the Pro12 play-offs at the end of the season. If they fail to qualify for the last four it will be a unique development since the play-off system was introduced in the 2009-10 season.

Friday night's game against Glasgow does offer a chance to apply further pressure on the Scottish side and the other teams above them in the league.

Their assignment the following week against Harlequins in the Heineken Cup is of far more importance, though.

Downey watched Harlequins' English Premiership loss to Saracens at Allianz Park last Sunday (27-17). What struck him about the game was the enormous defensive effort it took Saracens to keep Harlequins at bay.

"Saracens play a very smart game," he observes. "It's not pretty to watch but it is effective and their defensive effort was huge at the weekend.

"The pressure will be on Harlequins when we play them. They have home advantage and the onus will be on them to score and make that home advantage count. It's why they chose to keep the game at the Stoop (rather than switch to Twickenham)."

From his years at Northampton, Downey has more experience of playing at Harlequins' citadel than his team-mates. It can be an intimidating ground, but the 31-year-old doesn't believe Munster need have any fears.

"It's different to go to England for a game than playing away in France. We need have no undue fears about playing at the Stoop. It's a tight ground and can be uncomfortable for the visiting team. That's the same with any away fixture though," he says.

"It's an 'us against them' mentality ... I've won there a couple of times and you can really get into them and upset them."

Irish Independent

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