Saturday 20 July 2019

David Wallace: Munster need to put the Dragons to the sword to boost title hopes

Still defensive gaps to plug, but Munster will be hard stopped

Munster’s CJ Stander does some stretching exercises during training at Irish Independent Park. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile.
Munster’s CJ Stander does some stretching exercises during training at Irish Independent Park. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile.

David Wallace

It was such a great game last weekend. Munster will be disappointed with the outcome considering they were in command in the final stages but two points is a decent haul from Kingspan Stadium.

Overall, it was difficult to figure out who the better side was.

In the first half Munster had to soak up lots of pressure and maybe they'll be looking at the amount of the first up tackles they missed.

But somehow they still managed to take a 9-0 lead with time running out and they had to be pleased because the players were extremely clinical with their chances.

Ian Keatley was great off the tee and Munster frustrated Ulster well because they didn't concede many penalties, or at least penalties within scoring range.

However the scoreboard could have been so different had the work-rate and the scramble defence worked and Ulster been on their game in the final third.

When the hosts did get through the first line of defence they didn't have their accuracy up to standard, despite some good opportunities for Tommy Bowe and Jared Payne.

The try before half-time was a real sucker-punch and Ulster did well after the break again, but Munster showed that class and got back in the lead.

Paddy Jackson's kicking out hand was poor and that cost Ulster, whereas Keatley performed very well under the pressure.

With less than two minutes on the clock and Ulster down to 14 men Munster will be disappointed not to have held on.

Possibly they should have held on to possession for the two minutes, but conceding points at the end of both halves will annoy them too.

One thing that popped up again was the Munster set-up in the lineout and that's something they really needs to be address fast. Top teams are going to exploit any weakness in the defence and once again Ulster did, only for Bowe to miss an easy try opportunity.

It wasn't just a fluke either, Ulster had obviously done their homework. It was Eusebio Guinazu and BJ Botha at the tail and Ulster drew out the Argentinian hooker, leaving Botha exposed.

One option Munster should look at is swapping Conor Murray from minding the five-metre tram with the hooker at the tail, rather than having two front-rows together in such a delicate defensive position.

Saying all that, they need to focus on Dragons this weekend and not getting ahead of themselves thinking about teams they might be facing in the semi-finals.

It's crucial they get a home semi-final, and the only way they can do that now is by getting a bonus-point win over Dragons.

Dragons were impressive last weekend, beating Edinburgh at Rodney Parade, but the ideal situation this weekend would be if they came to Irish Independent Park with a whole squad of fringe and academy players.

At this stage they could be thinking about what's ahead of them next season and that would make things easier for Munster.

If Munster are talking home semi-finals and winning the Pro12 outright then they need to put a team like Dragons to the sword. Losing is absolutely out of the question and they should be aiming for a bonus point.

Obviously Anthony Foley and his management team won't be echoing those words, but if Munster want to ensure they get one of those home semi-finals they need all five points.

It's going to be a physical game but you would think the class will tell out, and with a lot of Munster players also looking to prove a point for inclusion in the semi, it will be interesting to see how they perform.

CJ Stander was in fine form again last Saturday against Ulster. He is one of Munster's most important players going forward.

And then seeing the likes of Ronan O'Mahony and Jack O'Donoghue coming off the bench and doing so well was really pleasing.

Injuries to the in-form Simon Zebo and Tommy O'Donnell are a blow for sure - hopefully they're not too serious - but everyone will need to be on their game if Munster want to make sure of their place in a home semi-final.

Another win would build the confidence and momentum ahead of a massive fortnight.

Irish Independent

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