Tuesday 17 September 2019

David Wallace: 'Options galore as on-song Munster turn to Castres and seek another European win'

Conor Murray during Munster squad training at the University of Limerick. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Conor Murray during Munster squad training at the University of Limerick. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

David Wallace

With Munster in action on Friday night it afforded me the opportunity to go along to an evening with Conor Murray to mark his achievements at Adare Manor on Saturday. It was a brilliant occasion and a great initiative by the Garryowen club by some of its key members.

On the night Garryowen also took the opportunity to launch their Legacy Foundation. Rather than it being an internal charity focused on fundraising for the club, it's an external one, looking outward and seeking to help the community, while also helping ex-amateur players who may need assistance.

As well as Conor, there was other Munster and Ireland players there as well: Keith Wood did a Q&A along with Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony, while Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Conway, Mike Sherry, Rob Kearney, Rory Best and Keith Earls all came along.

During Conor's interview it came up about him finishing last weekend's win over Edinburgh on the wing, and while he mentioned he was a little bit out of his comfort zone, he really didn't look out of place in my eyes.

On the night, all of the tries were scored by the backs, but it was a very impressive performance all round. The pack really laid the foundation and they looked extremely strong and powerful.

The go-forward ball they delivered was nigh on perfect at times and it played a huge part in that win: when your forwards are on song like that it makes everything look easier.

Munster reintroduced seven internationals for that game and it was a seamless return for them. When you think the likes of CJ Stander and Joey Carbery still have to come back, the signs a very positive ahead of the Champions Cup and the Christmas inter-pros.

This weekend it is likely that Jean Kleyn and Tommy O'Donnell are the only two frontline players unavailable to Johann van Graan. But then again you have Billy Holland in good form and a hugely competitive back row so their absence has been managed well. The strength in depth that's there now could well be the missing element for the province.

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The last two games have been drastically different but both beneficial. They had to grind out a bonus-point win in a mucky arm wrestle in Italy, which was followed by the free-flowing and open victory over Edinburgh which was earned on the back of a dominant performance.

The win was in the bag by half-time, but it wasn't as if Munster eased off either. They still scored two tries after the break, when Edinburgh did a lot better.

Two tries on his first start of the season was a great return for Farrell and he must be pushing for his place now straight away this weekend. Considering he played in France for a couple of seasons he'll know Castres inside out.

Who starts alongside Farrell is the big question. Rory Scannell started beside him at the weekend and probably deserves to hold onto the shirt after a very strong season to date, but then you have Sammy Arnold who won his first Ireland cap recently and Tyler Bleyendaal has done nothing wrong since his return either. Soon enough Jaco Taute and Dan Goggin will be knocking on the door when they're up to speed.

It has been a bright start to the pool for Munster and they have a great chance to kick on in these back-to-back games against Castres. They lost at home to Agen at the weekend, which is a big no-no in the Top 14.

But Castres are well in contention here. They lost away to Gloucester and then beat Exeter in France, so they may well look at this game as a chance to take control of the group. But you just don't know with French teams what attitude they'll bring.

They are a very French-style team that in terms of their personnel they don't have an awful lot of international guys coaching or playing for them. The fact that the first of the two games takes place at Thomond Park is a real advantage.

When Castres came to Thomond Park in last season's competition they left with a heavy defeat and they will be keen to avoid that this weekend I'm sure. Munster will look to their own record on the road against French teams where wins have evaded them of late. They'll want to deliver an early blow for that game this weekend. I expect a home win.

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