Saturday 18 November 2017

Expect to see wins at home and abroad

Munster lads in form for Ireland as France look ripe for the picking

Simon Zebo is tackled by Taulupe Faletau during Ireland's Six Nations clash with Wales last weekend (SPORTSFILE)
Simon Zebo is tackled by Taulupe Faletau during Ireland's Six Nations clash with Wales last weekend (SPORTSFILE)
Paul O'Connell with Donncha O'Callaghan and Alan Quinlan as they celebrate Munster's Heineken Cup success of 2008 in Cardiff (SPORTSFILE)

David Wallace

Munster take on Ospreys this weekend as the Pro12 kicks back into action, and this is a real test of how much the squad has improved.

Munster won in Italy last time out yet they slipped to sixth in the standings, and that just shows how congested it is getting at the top towards the latter end of the season in the Pro12.

It's good to see the young guys step up this weekend. They will be buoyed by how their team-mates went for Ireland against Wales. And they know the Six Nations period gives them a chance to stake their claim for a place in the Munster team.

Munster are on the back of a few wins, and even though Ospreys will be a massive challenge, Munster should have the squad to beat them in Cork. Munster blooded players earlier in the season and hopefully it will pay dividends now.

You have to win your home games, and the games during the Six Nations take on a life of their own. Ospreys are seventh, just behind Munster, but Munster do have a game in hand. Nevertheless Munster need every point they can get to stay in contention.

But looking at the Munster squad there is a lot of talent there, guys who are on the borderline of the Irish squad. That blend of youth and experience should see them through.

And last weekend it was great to see the Munster contingent doing so well with Ireland in the Six Nations.

The regular squad members, Conor Murray, Keith Earls and Donnacha Ryan, all did well, but CJ Stander's performance on his debut was fantastic. Tommy O'Donnell was brilliant on his return, and Simon Zebo showed he can do it in a green jersey too.

Stander was amazing with 23 carries on his debut. The hits he put in were monstrous. He was always there or thereabouts at the breakdown, and making a nuisance of himself. His work rate and ability to carry really effectively was massive.

The great thing from an Irish point of view, is that was definitely a step up in intensity and fitness levels for him. But it will stand to him and he will just get better and better as the Six Nations goes on.

Breaking

Tommy had a great game as well in the back-row. I was sad to see him go off with a head injury, because that was one of the best games I have seen him play, certainly in an Irish jersey.

Zebo did a lot of good hard running, despite the knee injury he picked up early on. He never stopped breaking through the holes and did himself no harm with that performance.

There was a lot of pressure on Ireland going into it with injury and how the provinces had gone in Europe. There was a bit of the unknown, and the Welsh were the most settled squad in this tournament.

Ireland have the ability to be a really potent team. Normally it's always all about the breakdown and getting the ball back. But there was a bit more urgency. Guys were focused on moving the ball away from the breakdown as quickly as they could.

They need to keep that up in Paris. The six-day turnaround is going to be very difficult for Ireland especially when they are travelling. It would have been an easy week, they would have put the review to bed early and started to focus on the French straight away.

The French were very poor against Italy. There was no intensity, no work rate, very sloppy offloading play. It's like they're trying to play the Guy Noves old-fashioned-style rugby without having the fitness or work ethic to do it.

You really need to open up a team before you can play that way. Maybe in time they will learn. It might come eventually, but it is a very different style of play, and it's good to get them early in the Championship.

France were lucky last weekend, the penalty against Parisse was a bit disappointing. Italy were on the attack too, so who knows Italy could have won by more. And it didn't even seem like a kickable position.

But hopefully Ireland can go down there, confident they can get a win. It won't be easy of course, but it's a real chance to beat France again.

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