Monday 14 October 2019

David Wallace: 'Back-row battle will be key against improving Scots who will fight to the end'

Jack O'Donoghue
Jack O'Donoghue

David Wallace

By 3pm tomorrow we'll know if Munster's hopes of league and European glory remain on track, and if they win in Edinburgh it won't be without a colossal battle at Murrayfield.

If we all needed a reminder of the challenge that the Scottish side will pose, it came last weekend when they totally bossed Leinster in a bonus-point win. Yes, it was a Leinster side shorn of many experienced players, but it was a real show of strength from Richard Cockerill's outfit. They'll be ready to impress in their first Champions Cup quarter-final since 2012.

While Edinburgh were turning on the style against Leinster, Munster were having a very sticky opening half against Zebre at Thomond Park. Eventually they found some form in the second half, but it was slow going before that.

Special I was at the game at the weekend and it was a great evening out. It was made all the more special because my son, Andrew, was playing with the Garryowen U-11s at half-time. They played Fermoy and it was great to see him involved.

He sprained his fingers earlier in the week but thankfully he was able to run out at Thomond Park. It was a short eight-minute match, but they loved the experience. Tadhg Beirne and Conor Oliver came in to say hello to them in the changing rooms and for young rugby players it was all a huge thrill.

I must say I was impressed with Zebre, who played really well in that first half. They were full of power, pace, were dangerous at the breakdown and offloaded brilliantly, but unfortunately they suffered a few injuries and fell away.

Munster upped their game when they made a few changes though. Chris Farrell, Tyler Bleyendaal and Jean Kleyn made big impacts from the bench. Replacement out-half is a position which gives you a great perspective of a game from the sideline, and once introduced you can make a real difference. Tyler was excellent when he came on, he kicked very well and looked the best I've seen him since his comeback.

It looks as if Joey Carbery could now be fit to face Edinburgh, but at least the coaches know they have plenty of talent in reserve if time beats him.

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The maul was one area that operated very well, but they won't get such an easy ride in Murrayfield tomorrow afternoon. I thought they showed some deft handling for Darren Sweetnam and Mike Haley's tries late on.

And Edinburgh will be switched on for this one. This is their biggest game in years and they are blessed with some talented players at the moment.

Bill Mata is a very impressive No 8 and he's a guy Munster will nearly have to man-mark like they have done with Leone Nakarawa in the past. WP Nel, Ross Ford, John Barclay, Hamish Watson and Magnus Bradbury are all class operators. Their back-row is a huge weapon whatever way they divide their four stars up. Against Rhys Ruddock, Dan Leavy and Max Deegan, they came out well on top at the weekend, so Munster's trio and replacements must be on song throughout.

Consequently, I will be keen to see what way Munster line up in the back-row. Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander will definitely start, but I think there is a possibility that Jack O'Donoghue could get in ahead of Chris Cloete. Saturday was O'Donoghue's first 80 minutes since his return, but he is a more dynamic player around the field, he's also a great lineout operator, and if Tadhg Beirne starts in the second-row the loss of Cloete's ground game will be balanced out.

We saw Rory Scannell go off injured last weekend but it looks like he is okay again, and you'd have to think Chris Farrell is the man to start alongside him at centre. Having all of the internationals back into the set-up brings real confidence about the place, and having Carbery back mix is a real boost.

Home advantage is a huge thing at this stage of the competition and the way Edinburgh have played in the big games, you'd have to say they're favourites for this one, which is no bad thing.

From the outside people may think that professionals treat every single game the same, but senses and emotions are heightened for European weeks. I know from my own time how important European rugby is in the history of the province.

That extra pressure usually results in a big performance from the lads. It will be needed to succeed at Murrayfield.

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