Wednesday 20 June 2018

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Rassie Erasmus: Time for playing around over, we must now settle on combinations

Ian Keatley was first to be hooked. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Ian Keatley was first to be hooked. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

This time last year Munster left the Aviva Stadium humbled by their old foes and refocused their attentions on a tricky Champions Cup opener in France.

Fast forward 12 months and it's a similar scenario and while on paper at least, going to a struggling Castres side should be an easier task than what was lying ahead against Racing, Munster have several issues to rectify ahead of Sunday's clash.

For the second week in a row, their discipline was awful but this time, unlike Cardiff Blues last weekend, a much better Leinster side punished their sloppiness.

It's difficult know where Munster stand as European rugby returns but Rassie Erasmus certainly believes that they are a better side now compared to last year.

Prior to the defeat to Leinster, Erasmus had said that he was going to try a couple of different things and given that the second half was barely six minutes old before the Munster boss switched to a more familiar looking back-line, it suggested that he had enough of the experimenting.

Ian Keatley was first to be hooked and an out-of-sorts Tyler Bleyendaal soon followed him to the bench, which left JJ Hanrahan as the last of the three out-halves standing.

Hanrahan didn't have it all his own way during his stint at full-back as Johnny Sexton repeatedly targeted him aerially but the Kerry native looked far more assured when he moved to out-half.

It was also telling that Hanrahan took over the kicking duties both from hand and the tee, when Keatley (pictured) was substituted and not Bleyendaal who has struggled this season. Erasmus as a big decision to make for Castres but if he is picking on form, Hanrahan should be given the nod.

"He does so well in attack," Erasmus said of Hanrahan .

"If you're not a regular full-back you can get found out by a world-class 10 like Johnny (Sexton) and he put some pressure on us. But it's nice because last year we only had Keatley and Tyler standing.

"We won't moan while we've all three of them there. We've played around, but we must stop playing around now and settle on selection combinations next week.

"We've seen who can do what and now we must pick our best side on form next week. But it's nice to have three proper 10s. We know who our number one 10 is and we'll go with him next week."

Munster desperately need Jean Kleyn's power back in the engine room and Erasmus is hopeful he will return from his neck problem this week.

The uncertainty surrounding the coaching situation won't help matters and for all the talk of the players driving the agenda this season, plenty of them will be taking a long, hard look in the mirror after a sub-standard display.

Improvements are needed across the board but, rightly, there is no sense that the panic button is being pressed just yet.

"Last year we couldn't score tries and in this game we scored three tries, and our discipline was bad," Erasmus maintained.

"Last year from that we went on and made the semi-final, so we're pretty much in the same boat. We only got one league point from this, but we played a totally different team than this, we played Racing.

"We've watched Castres a bit but we scored tries to still be second in our conference. There are many positives and Simon (Zebo) will be available, so we're not sitting too bad. Last year we really struggled to score tries, as well as we did, and this year we've been really doing well with ball in hand.

"Tries wins games and tournaments but actually our kicking game was terrible today. Our attack kept us in the game and we managed to get over the try-line three times.

"In that regard, I know we can always go back to a kicking game and set-piece because that's always been our stronghold, but it's nice to have some attacking intent as well."

Similar to what Glasgow did recently, Leinster exposed Munster's soft underbelly and if Peter O'Mahony's tetchy post-match television interview on TG4 is anything to go by, expect a fiery response over in Castres.

The Reds' skipper was more composed when he spoke with the written press and he insisted that he and his team-mates had to shoulder the blame.

"Certainly there's a stand-out thing we have to go and sort," O'Mahony maintained.

"We've got to go to France for a win and we've got to give ourselves a chance to win a game and certainly discipline is a starting point, giving away as little penalties as possible. So there's a glaring aspect that we've got to sort quickly.

"You can see we're trying new things. We're trying to add a few strings to our bow and that takes time."

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