Thursday 18 January 2018

All is not lost for Munster in European adventure

Hanrahan provides missing spark as positives emerge from French defeat

JJ Hanrahan in action during training ahead of Munster's game against Glasgow tomorrow. Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
JJ Hanrahan in action during training ahead of Munster's game against Glasgow tomorrow. Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Conor Murray goes through his paces. Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

David Wallace

With everything that went on for Munster in the last two weekends, I had forgotten they are top of the Pro12 standings. It's not all doom and gloom but somehow that had slipped my mind.

Even after back-to-back defeats against Clermont, all is not lost in the Champions Cup either. It's not an ideal situation, to be sitting in third place in the pool with just two games to go, but if anyone can go and take on Saracens it's Munster.

Remember, Sarries have to go to Clermont in their last game as well, so it is not as worrying a situation as it might first appear. A positive few weeks in the Pro 12 could be just the tonic they need.

Impressed

I was pretty impressed with how Munster went about their business in Clermont. Yes they lost, but it could have been so much worse had they not dug deep in the last ten minutes.

They probably could even have won if they had just been a little bit cuter. The couple of minutes before half-time was the killer. Going in 8-6 down would have been a great boost, but hopefully they'll learn those lessons for again.

It boiled down to one or two small errors. There were a few kicks that led to the tries, kicks that should have found good touch, but instead put them under pressure.

Conor Murray and Simon Zebo were both guilty of not sending the ball deep into the stand when they had the chance, and that let Clermont attack them quick out wide.

But the improvement overall from the previous week's effort in Thomond Park was sizeable. The physicality in contact was much better, and guys like Fritz Lee didn't have the same free rein as before. Munster's chop tackles were excellent and their poaches and turnovers in the first half especially were top notch.

The introduction of JJ Hanrahan to the centre made a huge difference. He was excellent in the first half and every time he got his hands on the ball he looked dangerous.

He gave Munster an extra spark that hasn't been evident in midfield, so it will be interesting to see how much game time he gets in the coming weeks there.

You have got to commend Munster for their effort, though. Considering that in the 74th minute they were 26-9 down, to get a bonus point from that situation in Clermont is pretty special. I am sure it might feel almost like a victory in some ways.

It all boils down to the Saracens game, which will be some encounter.

But there is the small matter of Glasgow, Leinster, Connacht and Zebre to manage first. Three of those games are away from home - only Leinster will provide some home comfort to Munster - so Anthony Foley's side will be well tested by the time Sarries comes around.

Starting tomorrow afternoon in Glasgow, Munster really need to pick themselves up from a disappointing couple of games, but I'm sure the way that they finished in Clermont will stand to them.

Gregor Townsend has built a seriously powerful outfit - they were unfortunate not to beat Toulouse last weekend themselves - so it is a huge challenge.

Talented

That loss to Toulouse was Glasgow's first defeat there all season in all competitions, so they'll be keen to get back on track against Munster, while the fact that they were leading the pack for so long shows what a talented side they are. But I think Munster will win.

The injuries haven't helped Munster cause, but I was pretty impressed with how John Ryan fared against a formidable Clermont front-row. He'll get plenty of game time in the next few weeks, but Munster shouldn't worry about him if he can hold his own in the Stade Marcel Michelin.

If Munster manage to get over that hurdle, there will be no down time with another six-day turnaround ahead of Leinster's visit.

After that a New Year's Day clash in Connacht will also challenge the squad, so it promises to be a competitive few weeks.

Only three wins will satisfy the squad, though.

Irish Independent

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