Tuesday 22 January 2019

Foundations still in place for a big season

If Van Graan settles in quickly Reds can push forward on both fronts

Simon Zebo. Picture: Sportsfile
Simon Zebo. Picture: Sportsfile

David Wallace

Munster are second in Pool 4 of the Champions Cup and second in Conference A of the Guinness PRO14, so things are looking good heading into November, and if Johann van Graan can step in seamlessly, it could become a very fruitful season.

I was a bit worried coming into the game against Racing 92 last weekend. Munster beat them twice last year, and I felt they might have had a bit of an edge to set the record straight in Limerick. 

To an extent they did that, they came over to play and really went for it. But credit to Munster, their discipline and defence was brilliant. 

They certainly didn't give Leone Nakarawa any room to put in those flashy offloads, although he tried six or seven in the first half alone where he couldn't get the ball away. 

For all of the possession that Racing had in very good positions on the pitch, putting Munster under pressure, the hosts didn't give them any chance to kick at goal. It was all about winning the gritty way and with those conditions that was always going to be the case. 

It was a very mature display too. Going forward, the confidence Munster will take from how they defended and performed in terms of discipline is going to be huge. 

They should use that game as a blueprint for what they are capable of. When you look at the outside backs that Munster have, they can create and finish chances that makes them a potent and difficult team to beat and that will come with the drier weather too.

Munster were fantastic at the breakdown against the French. In the previous week Castres were very, very strong in that area too. And they were always going to turn over Munster on occasion. 

But Jaques Nienaber coordinated their defence brilliantly. Munster had a Saracens-esque game-plan and they implemented it well.  

You don't give a team easy outs after all your hard work. You don't want to be gifting them three points or even just a chance to clear the ball. 

The conditions made ball-handling very difficult and in that instance playing with the strong breeze behind you makes it more difficult. That might have slowed down the game and suited Racing and their big men, but Munster were well prepared for that. 


At one stage late in the game Racing were well on top in the possession and territory stats, but for all of the power and might they had, Munster reduced them to just one try. They kept Nakarawa at bay, outside of his try, and he is very difficult to stop when he is that close to the line.

You have to give a special mention to Ian Keatley. He marshalled the game excellently and it was great to see him bounce back from a missed penalty with a beautiful kick into the corner. It's great to see him playing with that smile on his face, especially against one of his heroes Dan Carter, who he outperformed.

It's still early in the season and the lads will be fresh heading to Galway tonight. But it's always a huge challenge against Connacht at the Sportsground.

If you are not right mentally it could be a long day. It's the type of match Connacht will try and use to reignite their season and that can be dangerous.

Connacht are going to be a different challenge to Racing. It's an important game and Munster will need to get back into a different competition and create momentum again.

This is a busy phase when you are jumping in and out of Champions Cup. It's important to keep that momentum flowing and they have all the tools to do that. Munster will have no problem in creating and finishing chances. They just need to have their discipline, cuteness and maturity in check again, and they will be very tough to beat if they keep it together.

The inter-pros are some of the toughest games you play in. People might say they are not as big as they were because they used to be the main stepping stone into the Irish team. But they are so many big games now, coaches have more to select from. 

But there is still a lot of pride and bragging rights on the line. There will be one-on-ones where guys will be trying to out-do their opposite number and it will be one hell of a battle.

Irish Independent

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