Friday 23 March 2018

David Wallace: Belfast win to transform ailing season as Munster head to Paris

With confidence back, Foley's boys can go to Paris and triumph again

Keith Earls goes through his paces during training Photo:Sportsfile
Keith Earls goes through his paces during training Photo:Sportsfile
Jack O’Donoghue in action in Limerick Photo:Sportsfile

David Wallace

The win over Ulster was just what the doctor ordered and Munster can plan for Stade Francais with renewed optimism.

It would have been devastating to lose six in a row, and then face the prospect of a trip to Paris in the Champions Cup. That would have been treacherous to say the least.

But the win in Belfast changes everything, and going on history, and what Munster produced last week, I don't see why they can't win at Stade Jean Bouin.

An away game at Ulster is always one of the most difficult games in the calendar no matter what the circumstances are. In the preceding five games Munster had played good attacking rugby and controlled possession, but things didn't go their way.

That stemmed from their defence, which is still a slight worry. But in attack they had been brilliant in recent matches with the red zone the final stumbling block on many occasions.

Hopefully the extra confidence they garnered against Ulster can push them on to believe in themselves when they get those opportunities. Munster need to be clinical, and at this level you must take those chances.

Often a player under pressure for their place would normally try too hard and do things they wouldn't normally do, and therefore make mistakes, and Munster were definitely feeling that sort of pressure and made errors as a result.

But in Kingspan Stadium it was different. Ian Keatley typified it; he was scrutinised in recent weeks, and plenty would have said he wasn't up to the task. He realised that he was through the worst of it and things were only going to get better. He knew he suffered a bad patch like all players do, and responded admirably.

He got rid of the shackles, controlled the game and won the battle of the two out-halves against Paddy Jackson, an Irish counter-part who has been one of the stars for Ulster this season.

Rory Scannell gave another stand-out display too. He's been fantastic since he got his opportunity and has a big future - he deserves the new contract he was awarded recently too.


That's another thing that has been overlooked at Munster this season - people have questioned why big-name players aren't coming in and younger guys are having to step up to the mark when injuries arise.

They have given youth its chance, and blooded a number of youngsters. Even in defeat these players learn from it: the mistakes they make now will help to mould them into better players in the future, and there is a serious wave of talent about to take over from this current Munster squad in years to come.

And with Tommy O'Donnell back, Munster are slowly but surely starting to retain a nice bit of depth in the squad too. It's the best of both worlds, and when you see CJ Stander, Dave O'Callaghan, Robin Copeland and Jack O'Donoghue competing with Tommy, and Peter O'Mahony also on the mend, it bodes well.

But for now it's all about the Champions Cup and this game in Paris. Another tough journey for his team, but character-building and one they definitely can win.

From what I saw with Stade Francais at Leicester earlier in the season, I wasn't impressed with what they offered.

However they will be a different proposition at home, especially on the back of a big win over Toulouse last weekend.

But Munster have a knack of going to France and grinding out results down there. If nothing else, they always seem to push the opposition close so the players need to draw confidence from that.

But not only that, I think that they are over the hump now and another win in Paris will justify that Munster are back in form.

On paper, Stade are the traditional star-studded French side with players of the calibre of Sergio Parisse and Will Genia. But it's questionable whether they can perform as a team, like Munster can.

They are the reigning French champions but they haven't really done it yet this season; hopefully Munster make them wait a little longer to turn it back on.

Irish Independent

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