Wednesday 17 July 2019

A chance for squad to shine

And it's great to see Munster men starring in the green shirt

Billy Holland being lifted by Liam O'Connor in training Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Billy Holland being lifted by Liam O'Connor in training Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

David Wallace

It was a fascinating start to the Six Nations, a brilliant victory for Ireland, and Munster were well represented, especially in the crucial final phases.

I couldn't believe beforehand how one-sided everyone presumed the game would turn out. I've played down there and know what it's like. Then you have someone like Josh van der Flier, who hasn't even been to the city - it's a baptism of fire for those guys.

Johann van Graan Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Johann van Graan Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

It's a very different experience to go over there. Even the simple things like the sights and sounds, the fanfare and the crowd.

Then you have a completely different French side in opposition. These guys always dig deep when they play at home and can come up with some magnificent performances.

Ireland didn't cut France open but that was due to their relentless defence. Yet when Ireland needed to they backed their fitness, marched down-field into drop-goal range.

It wasn't just the drop-goal that Sexton converted. He grabbed the bull by the horns. His leadership from the point where he caught the ball behind the posts, to when he sprinted to the 22.

Sexton gave the pinpoint drop-off to Iain Henderson. Then his courage to find Keith Earls in space with his kick. Sexton also had some quality carries in that passage, and then rounded it off with a sensational kick.

The French game was always going to be a big test. But they have that one under their belts and it gives them lots of momentum with a really favourable draw for the rest of the competition.

The Munster guys really stood up in Stade de France and once again Conor Murray came in for some rave reviews from all corners of the rugby sphere.

Murray managed an explosive carry and a clear-out, before he provided the perfect pass for Sexton to slot the drop-goal.

That drive at the end was reminiscent of Munster of old and it was great to see the likes of Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander to the fore there again.

Keith Earls continued his brilliant form of late, and even just the way he took that ball from Sexton's tricky cross-field kick, and then managed to make yards after. It's as sharp as I've ever seen him. He's one of the form wingers in Europe at the moment.

Impact John Ryan came on and he made an impact near the end too, which is a tough ask when you come off the replacements' bench against France in Paris, and into a cauldron like that. You have no time to get your second wind but he still managed to make an impact regardless.

The province is back in action against Zebre tomorrow after a well-deserved break. The players were back last week where they did a lot of fitness work, and that was a great opportunity to get that done in the middle of the season.

Sometimes you don't get the chance to do the individual weights and fitness training after so many games. The tank is topped up now again and that should see the players through until the end of the season.

These games are really important. There might be a lot of players missing for the Six Nations, and it's a chance for some of the younger guys to fill in and make a statement.

In that past you could have makeshift squads and starting 15s during the international windows. But these days it's all about the squad and building strength in depth. Munster have talent throughout their ranks and the guys that come in will still provide a seriously competitive selection for the coaches.

You would expect them not to miss a beat and continue on their winning ways throughout the Six Nations period. The younger guys might not have an extended chance at game-time throughout the season, but now they have a few weeks where they can really lay down a marker.

The international contingent performed so well with Ireland last weekend, and after they watched their clubmates being part of such an inspired victory in France, it will filter down to the provinces too.

Munster need to take advantage of that momentum and a bonus-point victory could be on the cards against a weakened Zebre outfit at Thomond Park.

Irish Independent

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