Sunday 25 February 2018

Alan Quinlan: Munster's lack of creativity and attacking prowess is a concern

Scarlets dish out another harsh lesson as Erasmus left with plenty of work to do over the summer

Jack O’Donoghue, Simon Zebo, Tommy O’Donnell and Angus Lloyd show their disappointment after Munster’s defeat on Saturday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Jack O’Donoghue, Simon Zebo, Tommy O’Donnell and Angus Lloyd show their disappointment after Munster’s defeat on Saturday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Alan Quinlan

When Munster left the Aviva last month after being handed a sobering defeat by Saracens, they did so promising to take the lessons from it.

As they returned to Dublin over the weekend, the same old failings came back to haunt them.

Their lack of creativity and attacking prowess is a concern, and you can be sure that will be Rassie Erasmus' mission over the summer.

A lot has been achieved, under the most difficult of circumstances, this season, but that won't come as much consolation to the players, who missed out on a trophy. After taking so many steps forward, they definitely took one back on Saturday.

Their basic skill-set has improved since last year, but just as was the case against Saracens, Scarlets showed how far they still have to go to get back to that top level. A lot of Scarlets' tries came about because of Munster's sloppy errors and poor defence.

If you go right back to their defeat to Leinster at the Aviva last October, I saw plenty of promise and I was confident that they would go on and have a good season. But when they were put under pressure that day, their skills let them down massively. Their inability to chase the game when they were behind was glaring.

Some guys are naturally very skilful, but for others it takes time and effort. There are a lot of players who need to improve their co-ordination and their passing. While they don't deserve huge criticism, they need to deal in reality.

And that doesn't just apply to the backline. The pack need to improve their skills. Every team wants to have that full package and if Munster are to take that next step, that is ultimately what they need to work on.

Scarlets' DTH Van der Merwe celebrates scoring a try. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Scarlets' DTH Van der Merwe celebrates scoring a try. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Maybe there is a need to bring another coach in to add a fresh voice to the set-up. I think Munster would benefit from Erasmus having more time to look at the whole picture, which is why he was brought to the club in the first place. With the passing of Anthony, circumstances changed.

There is no doubt that Erasmus is an excellent coach, but they could do with someone who can add a different impetus to their attacking game-plan.

I had a feeling that there would be an outpouring of emotion and that maybe escalated within the players and affected their performance.

Sport doesn't do sentiment. It can be cruel and Munster found that out.

At this time of the year, when the ground firms up, you've got to have the ability to change up your game-plan. Munster are capable of scoring cracking tries, but on Saturday they just looked like they had nothing left in the tank, which was hugely surprising.

Conor Murray made a break in the first-half and there was absolutely no-one there supporting him. Keith Earls got into a great position later on after another clean line-break, but again there wasn't a single support player.

Munster are not familiar with cutting teams open and they're paying the price for that when they do manage to create an opening.

Saracens are a step above everyone else in Europe, so you could have cut Munster a bit of slack on that occasion, but they should have been good enough to find a way to close Scarlets down.

Munsters' Conor Murray and Scarlets' Rhys Patchel. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Munsters' Conor Murray and Scarlets' Rhys Patchel. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

On Saturday I wrote how Munster's kicking game needed to be on the money, the defence had to be used as a weapon, they had to be superior at the breakdown and also win the psychological battle. They didn't manage to do any of the above.

The crowd never got into the game because Munster didn't give them anything to shout about. The silence was eerie. As poor as Munster were, Scarlets were outstanding and are fully deserving champions.

Munster's decision making was really poor. Francis Saili made a very bad call to come up and in on Rob Evans in the build-up to Steff Evans' try, which proved to be a killer blow.

It all came off a turnover and that will infuriate Erasmus. Dave Kilcoyne carried the ball into the ruck, John Ryan cleaned it out, but hit it with his knee. The ball popped out and Scarlets went the length of the field to score a try. Unforgivable at this level.

Saili did the same thing twice against the Ospreys last week, but he got away with it thanks to his team-mates. I'm just baffled as to why he did it again.

Good teams scramble well and when they make a mistake they don't back it up with another error. That's exactly what Munster kept doing. Scarlets looked like they were playing touch rugby at times.

It seemed to me that a lot of Munster players were waiting for something to happen. That sounds like a major criticism, but it's not. It can just be a small psychological thing that they expected their natural flow and aggression to take care of itself.

To win 19 of 22 regular-season games, emotion or no emotion, Munster deserve a lot of credit for that. Add to that the six games they won in the Champions Cup and it's not a bad season at all.

Getting to a European semi-final exceeded expectations - remember, Erasmus pointed to the fact that other teams would look at Munster as the weak link in their pool. They overachieved in that sense, but in the league Munster should be making the play-offs at the very minimum. That should never change.

A lot of work is needed over the summer and top of the list has to be finding a quality replacement for Donnacha Ryan. Jean Kleyn will add some much-needed bulk to the pack when he's fit again, but they will need more than that because they don't have a lot of depth there. You could say the same about tighthead.

I don't think there is any need to panic. Munster have come a long way in the last 12 months, but they have a bit to go before they will get their hands on silverware again.

Saturday's defeat will linger for a long time, but I would be confident that after a traumatic season they will come back stronger next year.

Irish Independent

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