Tuesday 18 December 2018

Emotion of week can be driving force

Quality Racing outfit will pose significant test to Rassie's boys

Simon Zebo practises ball skills during training DIARMUID GREENE/SPORTSFILE
Simon Zebo practises ball skills during training DIARMUID GREENE/SPORTSFILE

David Wallace

It will be emotional for all involved in Munster Rugby this weekend as Anthony Foley's anniversary mass takes place in his native Killaloe.

On the field Munster would have felt somewhat relieved going on the last five minutes of the game at Stade Pierre Fabre last weekend, but equally they will feel they left a win behind them as they created some really good chances.

And even though Castres missed a drop-goal, a penalty and potentially another chance of penalty after Robin Copeland could have got pinged, Munster will feel they left some great opportunities behind them.

Rassie Erasmus will be happy leaving with a couple of points but there are no easy away games in this pool with trips to Racing 92 and Leicester Tigers to follow and it doesn't get any easier from here.

The Munster defence was superb late on in Castres, and Darren Sweetnam's tackle was fantastic, a match-saving moment in the corner with Keith Earls also performing heroics on another occasion.

You certainly get the feeling Munster are looking to play a bit more of an expansive game, and exploit the quality of their backs. At times it lends itself to making a few more errors but the opportunities they are creating are well worth it.

You really feel that they are so close to clicking, and it's possibly more mental errors that are letting them down, such as soft penalties and a bit of cohesion. In fact, getting the mental side of the game right this week will be the most rewarding.

You can't doubt the intensity, work-rate and effort of the players and you feel they deserve much more from their endeavours and that will come because it's a relatively easy fix, with a heightened emphasis on discipline and urgency to the breakdown.

At times Munster needed to hunt more in packs against Castres. The ball-carriers may have been a bit too exposed. It's all about recognition, knowing someone is carrying and being there when he goes to ground to provide the support.

PRESSURE Castres were very quick and physical at the breakdown and disrupted Munster on occasion. Once that clicks it will take away pressure in terms of turnovers and penalties, finishing out and getting tries.

Munster have all of the attributes to win this game against Racing 92. They are against a top-class French outfit, even their replacements are quality operators that would start on most international sides. And of course there is the ROG factor too - he's knows Munster inside out and that's a massive plus for the French.

Of course Racing are coming with a very experienced scrum but that is one area where Munster excelled last week.

Leone Nakarawa is the main danger for Racing. You have to man-mark him, and try to limit his ridiculous offloading skills. He definitely requires extra attention in the tackle area, a one-man tackle isn't enough. When you are playing French teams they traditionally like to try the offloading game and passing back into the inside channels. So Munster will need to flood the passing channels with defenders.

It's not just the first-up tackles, the next guys need to be in place to stop any potential offload too. If you let those teams get in behind you, with guys like Nakarawa, they have the speed and size to really hurt you.

Of course it's not ideal with Rassie heading off early and the question about when he will leave is cropping up again; Jacques Nienaber is another big loss because he is a very hands-on coach and has done really well with Munster.

But Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery have known about this situation for a long time, and I'm sure Johann van Graan will be well-versed by the time he takes the reins from his fellow countrymen.

There is no reason why Munster can't keep their momentum under a new voice. This is now an experienced team. They have matured well over the last few years in difficult circumstances, which has forged a very close bond.

The leadership group will play a big part in managing the transition too, in terms of influencing game-plans. They will drive it and hopefully it can all come together seamlessly.

Irish Independent

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