Sunday 20 October 2019

David Wallace: With Munster confidence on a high, it's huge chance to pick up key away victory in Europe

Dan Goggin’s performance was a silver lining to last weekend’s defeat. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Dan Goggin’s performance was a silver lining to last weekend’s defeat. Photo: SPORTSFILE

David Wallace

An eight-point defeat to your biggest rivals might be hard to stomach on most occasions, but following on from last weekend against Leinster, Munster have plenty to be confident and positive about facing into their first Champions Cup game of the season away to Exeter.

If I was the Munster coach I'd be much happier coming out of that performance than I was going into it. They controlled the game, their scrum and maul were dominant, they created chances, and they bared their teeth in the battle.

It was so positive in all areas, but for one reason or another - maybe some of them were out of their own hands - they just couldn't get the win.

It was an excellent performance: Munster had 68 per cent territory, 65 per cent possession, and they clocked up more running metres too. James Lowe's brilliance was the difference ultimately. Without him in the team, Leinster are certainly a different side.

The big positive was the set-piece. Yes, Leinster were without Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong from the start, but even when Healy and Andrew Porter arrived, Munster still dominated the scrum. Two of their tries came straight off the back of the scrum, and their third from Tadhg Beirne emanated from a maul. Those weapons will need to be fully loaded again this weekend against Exeter.

Worry

The big worry from the game is Alby Mathewson's injury. We don't know how serious his knee problem is, but if he misses out he will be a big loss. No 9 is an area with four injuries now - Conor Murray, Mathewson, James Hart and Neil Cronin - and other than the hugely experienced Duncan Williams, there is very little match time behind him in Jack Stafford and John Poland. They are both very talented scrum-halves, but experience is key at this level.

One of the very few positives about Murray being out all season is that Munster had to adapt before Mathewson arrived, but they would both be big losses. Hopefully the likes of Joey Carbery and Rory Scannell - if he plays - can take some of the extra workload, because Williams will end up shouldering the majority of minutes tomorrow.

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It was a pity that Stephen Archer was the guilty party for the late penalty for Leinster, but otherwise he was outstanding. He is incredibly underrated, and is a key man in the scrum and lineout and the way he performed against Jack McGrath and Healy suggests he will be right in the mix for Ireland.

Joe Schmidt has favoured John Ryan in the past, but they are both in with a shout now. And with Ryan back fit now too, the pressure can be taken off Archer as he done so much in the last month or so, and excelled while doing so.

But he wasn't alone at the weekend: CJ Stander was excellent, Peter O'Mahony is getting better and better and Tommy O'Donnell did well again too. Tadhg Beirne is growing into his surroundings and he looks like a real abrasive second-row. I certainly wouldn't like to be facing Jean Kleyn and himself this weekend.

As we expected, the defence looked more settled as the international players settled back into the team, but at the heart of it Dan Goggin and Sammy Arnold were excellent. Playing against Robbie Henshaw and Rory O'Loughlin, I though they came out on top, while Rory Scannell will surely come into the mix tomorrow as well.

This will be an interesting battle in Sandy Park... it will almost be like Munster facing Munster! Exeter are a side that pride themselves on performing on their home patch, they're blessed with a very strong set-piece and they have some really dangerous backs.

Between themselves and Saracens they've been top dogs in England for the last number of years. They sit top of the Premiership right now, they have six wins from six, have scored 29 tries along the way and have five bonus points to their name. They'll be excited at the chance of taking on Munster and giving them a taste of the Chiefs' welcome.

Exeter are a team without countless international superstars, but they have an excellent standard across the board and seem very tight as a unit. They value possession a lot and grind teams down. Munster will probably not get too much ball against them, so the likes of Andrew Conway, Keith Earls and Darren Sweetnam need to be clinical when they get a sniff.

Excited

The battle up front is one to be excited by. Both teams are very strong in set-piece and maul. As strong as Exeter are there, I'm confident that Munster's pack will be able to gain the upper hand. They're in-form, international players and I think Munster have a great shot at coming away with four points.

For sure this is a step up form last weekend's PRO14 derby. There was the pre-season meeting, which didn't go Munster's way and they failed to score. But on current form Munster can go over there and get the win, albeit against very strong opposition.

Munster's away form has not been the best so far this season, and other than last weekend in the Aviva Stadium, there was little evidence that they could win this one. But this is a settled team again. All the heavy hitters are back in there and, apart from the injury crisis at scrum-half, I'm confident that Munster have all the pieces of the puzzle to claim a big away win.

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