Friday 24 January 2020

David Wallace: 'Small margins between wins and losses as key interpro tests await'

 

Red star : Chris Farrell was one of the stand-out performers against Saracens. Photo: Sportsfile
Red star : Chris Farrell was one of the stand-out performers against Saracens. Photo: Sportsfile

David Wallace

After four rounds of the Heineken Champions Cup, I'd say the Munster squad is feeling a little short-changed.

They are still in with a shout of qualifying, but if they had displayed a ruthless streak against Racing 92 and Saracens they'd almost be home and hosed now. Instead they trail Racing by six points and must now go to Paris and win there to retain any hope of reaching the knockout stages.

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On the domestic front, the situation is a little rosier for Johann van Graan and his side who currently lead Conference B of the PRO14 despite their home loss to Edinburgh last time out.

Tomorrow they face a top-of-the-table clash with Connacht in the first of three consecutive Christmas inter-pros and any slip-ups could have a big impact on their standing in a very tight division.

In an ideal world, we'd see Munster going with a full-strength team again this weekend. Even if you forget about the local rivalry, this is a key game in the conference, and with European hopes on a knife edge it is important to keep a strong front in the PRO14.

Strongest

On the other hand, all is not lost in Europe either. I reckon the coaches will want to have their strongest team out in the third interpro against Ulster in order to have everyone on song for the key game in Paris a week later. As a result, I think we will see more changes for this Connacht game than the Ulster one.

Certainly the disappointment of last weekend will have hung around for a few days. It was a game that Munster could and should have won, but to leave without even a bonus point was very disappointing considering their performance.

Ahead of the game a lot of people were writing them off but I had a good feeling that Munster could cause an upset. But a missed penalty kick and the decision to kick to the corner instead of the posts the next time really cost them.

I think the loss of Peter O'Mahony was a big blow in a game like that. As captain, Peter is always a massive influence on the team but playing away to Saracens especially, he would have had a huge role to play.

I wonder would he have pointed to the posts instead of the corner had the decision been his?

Then to lose Tadhg Beirne through injury was another setback for that back row.

The injury didn't look great and to see him coming off with oxygen on the stretcher tells you it's a bad enough one. He will be a big loss for the province with some tough games ahead in the coming months. There is strength and depth in that position but he is one of the elite players in the squad and he will be missed.

The big talking point from the game was the incident with the Munster sideline official, Jamie George and the flashpoint that followed.

It didn't look good at all from a Munster point of view. You never want to see an incident like that happen, and if something is said from someone on the sideline, it can easily act as a catalyst.

It shouldn't happen from someone who's not playing. Between the players there is often chat and abuse being fired over and back, it goes with the territory, but it's different when it comes from the sideline. It is being investigated and we'll see what comes of it.

I suppose the reason Munster were written off ahead of their trip to Saracens was last season's Champions Cup semi-final between the sides that saw Munster torn asunder. That didn't happen last weekend and it is clear the side have improved hugely since then.

I have been very impressed with their defence all season and last weekend they stood up again. In attack too it has come a long, long way. They have employed a new style and it will take some time to get their skill levels up to the required level, but it's definitely going in the right direction.

I was encouraged with some of the individual performances again with Jean Kleyn and Chris Farrell the real standouts for me. Kleyn was outstanding and, if anything, I thought he was taken off a little early and still had reserves left in the tank.

Physically, he set the tone and he was everywhere. It was one of his best performances for the province.

Some guys will be annoyed with some of the key moments in the game, but in general it looked much improved and positive - aside from the result.

To date, it is the smallest margins that have denied Munster vital points, but playing against the game's elite every mistake is punished. Connacht are on a high this week after their late antics against Gloucester, and the Sportsground will be hopping for this one. There is no room for error here and we'll have to see a vintage Munster display to leave with the win.

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