Sunday 25 August 2019

David Wallace: 'We all wish Jerry and Felix the very best - Munster will find it tough to replace them'

Felix Jones. Photo: Sportsfile
Felix Jones. Photo: Sportsfile

David Wallace

Sometimes it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff and discover positives from a tough day at the office, but after Munster's narrow win over Benetton in the PRO14 quarter-final the main thing is they got over the line.

Then in the middle of the week I think we were all shocked to hear that Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones are both leaving the province at the end of the season. The news really came out of the blue.

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From what I'd heard, you couldn't find two more diligent and hard-working coaches, who loved their jobs. Like everyone in the province, I was stunned, but I sincerely wish them all the best and thank them for their hard work. Munster have an extremely tough few months ahead to fill the gaps they are leaving.

Problems On the field, Munster were made to fight all the way for last week's win, but in the end they won the battle.

For sure it was a game that the Italians deserved to win. They are a brilliant team to watch, their offloading game married with their powerful running caused big problems for Munster, and I'm sure the PRO14's Coach of the Year, Kieran Crowley, and his players were gutted to miss out on a first semi-final.

Munster's performance cannot be sugarcoated through. It shouldn't have been good enough to win that quarter-final and a repeat definitely won't be good enough to get past Leinster in the semi-final at the RDS next weekend.

Without doubt, the players' effort cannot be faulted. They worked well in defence apart from one or two instances, they were disciplined, their lineout and scrum operated efficiently, but certain things let them down and it almost cost them.

I felt the opening 15 or 20 minutes were key in the game. Munster totally bossed that period but all they had to their name after it was a penalty on 23 minutes.

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They couldn't get clean lineout possession early on to set their maul in a great position; then there was a knock-on close to the line, while Benetton defended their line really well and forced a good turnover too as the chances went unclaimed.

In contrast, Benetton's response to the score was immediate, and in their first attack they forced a penalty without too much bother.

All season we've watched Munster thrive as they claimed some excellent wins on the back of powerful performances, but I still think they have room for improvement.

Strangely, the tactic that they leaned most heavily on previously, the box-kick, was almost entirely absent last weekend.

Munster had been criticised in some areas for their over-reliance on Conor Murray's boot, but it is strange to hardly see it in use at all now. As a whole, the team only kicked the ball 28 times, but ran it 132 times and passed it on 166 occasions.

The 132 runs is an interesting statistic. Chris Farrell was responsible for 15 of those carries, while CJ Stander accounted for another 17, and they were the team's leading ball-carriers at the weekend.

Between them, the duo accumulated 66 metres - just over two metres per carry.

It is only something small, but it seems to me that all Munster players would benefit from bringing a bit more footwork to their game just before they are tackled.

Looking to play into space a bit more is always ideal and a small change there could reap big rewards.

The form of JJ Hanrahan is a massive positive though. It is certainly easier to make an impact when you come off the bench, but he is putting real pressure on Tyler Bleyendaal now in the battle to be Joey Carbery's back-up when he returns.

Even after last weekend's performance I'm not worried about them facing Leinster.

Munster have rarely not performed against their rivals. Munster have no fear whatsoever about facing Leo Cullen's side.

It will be very interesting to watch tomorrow's Champions Cup final, where Leinster face one of their biggest challenges against a top-class Saracens outfit.

You'd wonder what impact it will have on next week's game. But we thought the same thing last year and Leinster went to Bilbao, won the Champions Cup and then made the most of home advantage against Munster in the semi-final.

The Munster lads will hit next week with real vigour ahead of a huge game against Leinster. Last weekend was an off day, but don't expect to see a repeat against Leinster.

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