Sunday 22 July 2018

Defensive solidity is key to victory

European champs are ripe for picking after huge win against Racing

Peter O'Mahony hard at work in training
Peter O'Mahony hard at work in training

David Wallace

Leinster are European champions and Munster are going to their home this weekend looking to upset the apple cart in the Guinness PRO14 semi-final. What more motivation does a team want?

Racing 92 went toe to toe and really threatened Leinster for most of the final and it was just Teddy Thomas' late error that cost them, and ultimately one of Isa Nacewa's crucial penalties came from it. You would never see Leinster make an error like that. It comes down to a bit of rugby smarts on the big occasion. 

But Leinster deserved their win, and the Champions Cup to go with it, after the season they have had. And the players they have brought through, guys like James Ryan have really bolted and become star players.

His career has massive potential given this is just his first year as a pro. It's sign of his potential that he is already being compared to Paul O'Connell. But he has a long way to go as well. He's had a great start to his career. And no doubt there will be ups and downs with injuries and all of that. Munster will hopefully inflict his first professional loss tomorrow at the RDS.

Stephen Archer is a big loss for Munster this weekend, and there are able replacements to step in, and there could be a welcome return with John Ryan and Brian Scott added to the squad.

Robbie Henshaw will be a massive loss for Leinster but they have such strength in depth in their centre channels that you expect him to be replaced by another quality operator.

It was a gruelling final and Racing put their bodies on the line to disrupt Leinster last weekend. Leo Cullen's side will be suffering physically after that game, but they will target Munster too. It's not a normal game - it's Munster and Leinster in the semi-final.

When you think back to 2011, Leinster had just won the European Cup and we beat them back in Thomond Park. It's a very similar scenario for this bunch of Munster players now. Their opponents are on a pedestal, there to be knocked.

It's a massive plus if you can beat the European champions fresh off their big win. It can be a huge confidence-builder to be in a final, but also heading into next season. You have bragging rights and the Irish positions for the Australian tour all at stake.

Proved

Munster are facing a Leinster team that proved a point in Bilbao last weekend. They beat Racing the hard way. It's more difficult to come from behind and grind out a game in those circumstances. 

What impressed me most was the manner of their win. They have a young brigade of players coming through there, and they all front up in the aggression stakes. Dan Leavy typifies their mindset. They are so disciplined and smart on the field, but they also have that bit of an edge to them as well. It's impressive quality for some of the younger players to have.

Winning with two late kicks and grinding out a result like that rather than winning by 20 points speaks volumes. Now Munster must match that, and better it in Leinster's back yard. It's an awesome task ahead.

If you want to stop Leinster, it comes with the hits, it comes with slowing down the ball in the tackle. It prevents them having the opportunity to use their footwork, get the hands free, offload and get in behind you.

You have to stop them from generating quick ruck ball that the Leinster players feed off. And that's what Racing did for much of that game at the weekend. They slowed the Leinster game down, and didn't give them a chance to attack a defensive line that wasn't set.

It will be the defensive display that will win Munster this game starting off. They need to use their defence as an offensive weapon and push Leinster back. But it's crucial they retain the integrity of their defensive line and slow the ball down legally whenever they can.

Munster will hopefully play to their strengths too. They have talent that can wreak havoc out wide and hopefully Keith Earls, Andrew Conway and Simon Zebo can get their hands on the ball.

The game is there for the winning but it's a tall order for Munster. They need to win the battle of the breakdown, be stingy in defence and clinical going forward.

Irish Independent

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