Sunday 20 January 2019

David Wallace: 'Reds must expect to win away in France again if they want to be champions'

JJ Hanrahan during squad training at the University of Limerick. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
JJ Hanrahan during squad training at the University of Limerick. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

David Wallace

It's five years to the day since JJ Hanrahan weaved his magic in Perpignan to earn Munster an historic European victory, but amazingly since then only one of their seven games in France has ended in victory. I see a new run of positive results starting in Castres tomorrow.

Hanrahan arguably hasn't had a bigger day in the Munster shirt since, and how fitting it was for him to leave those tough seasons behind him with a stellar showing at Thomond Park.

That victory was a huge four points for Munster in this pool, and I expect them to progress from the group as a result, but in general terms tomorrow's game is now one they should be expecting to win and it is one that would set a real standard for the future.

Last Sunday was Munster's sixth win in a row and they should be going to Castres full of confidence, and armed with an attitude and belief that they can deliver.

They're playing with a lot of ambition and they look like they're enjoying their rugby. You get the feeling that it could be a special year for them yet.

But the reality is that if they are going to go further in this competition they will have to win in France at some stage, and the way the squad are carrying themselves at the moment indicates that they're ready to do that.

Don't get me wrong, this will be a tough game, but if you have the ambition to win the Champions Cup you have to produce on days like this.

The danger going away to French teams - especially to the likes of Clermont - was that they'd try and blow you away in the opening half, but the reality was that if you held tight for that spell they'd inevitably lift their foot off the pedal too.

Tomorrow, even if Castres get a score or two ahead I think Munster should back themselves to win in the end.

It will be interesting to see if Hanrahan gets the nod this weekend with Joey Carbery expected to be fit again, but I'm sure he'll be in the 23 anyway.

It was great to see him doing well: he kicked all of his goals, was very sharp in open play and he showed a great nose to get over for his try. Seeing him enjoying what he's doing was fantastic.

Going in against the Top 14 champions for the second week in a row will be a tough test. I know they are middle of the table so far this year, but they play in a very tight league and they were worthy champions last year.

There is definitely a bit of pride in their home patch and that's something that is very evident if you watch the Top 14. You'd hope Munster will be able to put them away in the final quarter and take the win.

There was a little bit of needle in the game last weekend and it seemed to escalate as the game went on, so I'm sure there will be strands of that carried into tomorrow.

Over the years there have been some intense battles between the teams, and with just six days between games the memory will be very fresh.

You need to talk a former front-row to discover the real secrets of the scrum, but in my opinion a lot of it is about attitude, that first hit and how the first couple of scrums go. That was one area of the game that Munster dominated entirely last week, which adds to their recent positive return there.

The Munster scrum is really strong at the moment and it's a weapon they can continually use to dismantle teams.

You can pick up vital penalties and create a platform to attack from, but it can be a psychological edge for the whole team. It's an area that I'd love to see Munster try and dominate again.

Tomorrow could turn into a bit of an arm-wrestle, but even if the game is in the balance the Munster bench can make a real impact.

Alby Mathewson, Kevin O'Byrne and Arno Botha are playing huge roles when they're introduced. This week we see Tommy O'Donnell and Jean Kleyn back training too, which will only add more options for Johann van Graan.

It will be interesting to see how Castres approach this game.

They are already six points behind Munster in the standings and any hint of a defeat for them might see heads drop, which would be the perfect outcome for Munster.

A win there would take a lot of pressure off the last two games in the pool and I expect to see a rare win on French soil.

Irish Independent

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