Monday 19 November 2018

Don't underestimate this Gloucester challenge with their talented, free spirits

The visit of Gloucester will see a return to Thomond Park for Gerbrandt Grobler
The visit of Gloucester will see a return to Thomond Park for Gerbrandt Grobler

David Wallace

Many Munster players from my generation recall the Miracle Match with fondness, but one of my last memories of facing Gloucester are leaving Kingsholm after breaking my nose on two different occasions in the same match.

I missed the first miracle match, but there was some divine intervention there the day I barely left with my features intact.

Firstly one of their guys fell on my face with his knee, before I tried to sidestep his colleague later on and a clash of heads finished the nose off.

They always played a very, very physical - but fair - game and it will be no different tomorrow. Munster will need to be ready for that test for a second week in a row.

The physicality was through the roof at Sandy Park, and if anything I thought Munster might have made it a bit too physical at times.

But they left Exeter with a super return from an away Champions Cup game against the leading team in England. After a tight defeat to Leinster the week before this result suggests Munster are right in the mix this season.

Settled

Certainly I think it was a game Munster could have won, but ahead of the game everyone would have settled for two points. The wind made a bit of a lottery of the game, but on a few occasions I felt there were chances for Munster to attack out wide to soften their defence up at the edges of the ruck.

What resulted was a bit of a war at the breakdown, and because Munster ruled the ball for the most part, it was them that suffered.

I thought Exeter got away with quite a bit there: they dived on the ball, came in from the side, left hands on the ball and were slow to roll away.

I'm sure it was very frustrating for the Munster pack. Exeter were excellent there, especially through Matt Kvesic. He's a natural seven playing at eight, and he was such a pest, but all round they really pushed the boundaries.

There are things that Munster could tweak there. They left a slight window of opportunity open for Exeter to get their hands in at the breakdown and if everyone can improve their clean-out support or we see a few more latches it will make such a difference.

But let's be fair too: that was a very good performance. There was a huge effort put in across the board, with Tadhg Beirne, CJ Stander, Duncan Williams and Joey Carbery particularly eye-catching.

For all the talk about Conor Murray and Alby Mathewson's injuries, Williams really stood up and reminded everyone of the talent that he possesses. He was out to prove a point with that display and he certainly did that.

It was a difficult game for the nines in the wind, but he marshalled the pack brilliantly. His defence was outstanding, and that triple tackle near the end saved Munster. The effort he put in around the breakdown was crucial.

He plays to his strengths and he has plenty of them. Sometimes it is harsh on him because he comes in and is expected to play like Conor Murray, but he is a different style of player. You cannot play in someone else's boots.

It was a pity that Keith Earls missed out at the weekend because of a pulled hamstring in the warm-up, but Darren Sweetnam certainly didn't let the side down when he was called in at the last minute. He is some talent to be able to call on.

Jean Kleyn and Beirne were brilliant in the second-row and they'll be up against it this weekend too with Gerbrandt Grobler coming back. He is a real talent and is playing so well for Gloucester.

Speaking to the coaches in Munster before he got injured last season they were just raving about him, his handling skills, footwork and set-piece work.

They were so impressed with him. He is now in the other corner and it's your typical story of the ex-player coming back to haunt you. They'll be watching him and he'll be desperate to show his full array of skills.

Gloucester have a good, rounded team and while you might assume that Exeter have the better players when you assess their league position, I feel there might be more individual talent in this Gloucester side.

Fantastic

Their scrum-half looks like a fantastic player, Callum Braley. He is a former sevens player and is really sharp. He scored their try and almost set up another against Castres and he needs particular attention around the breakdown, so the pillar defenders will have to be sharp again.

In Danny Cipriani, Tom Marshall and Charlie Sharples they have players capable of producing moments of brilliance. Cipriani will look to target that channel between the seven and 10 that was breached a couple of weeks ago, so he cannot be given the space to get on the front foot.

Ben Morgan is a serious back-row, and they will miss Ruan Ackermann on the flank, but in Jake Polledri they have another talent, who has really impressed with Italy this year. In the centre Billy Twelvetrees is a player I like a lot, he has huge experience and is dangerous.

This occasion needs a big performance from Munster, but I'm confident that a repeat of the Sandy Park performance, with one or two refinements, will result in a home win and top spot in the standings.

Irish Independent

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