Monday 20 November 2017

Glasgow is probably the biggest match left this season

Ian Keatley congratulates JJ Hanrahan after his late try helped earn Munster a draw in Wales
Ian Keatley congratulates JJ Hanrahan after his late try helped earn Munster a draw in Wales
Keith Earls – who has been in good form for Munster recently – goes through his stretching routine at Carton House

David Wallace

It's hard to know where to begin this weekend - Ireland and Munster have season-defining games that are both winnable, at home and against top sides.

It's England and Glasgow respectively and there will be no quarter given at the Aviva Stadium or at Irish Independent Park.

Last weekend it was just Munster in action but what a game that one was - if you only saw the last five minutes, you would think they got lucky against Scarlets.

It was a 25-25 epic at Parc y Scarlets but realistically when you review it, Munster should have won that game.

It was great to get the two late tries and the replacements really stepped up but it shouldn't have got to that stage.

It wasn't a fluke that Steve Shingler kicked six penalties; Scarlets got some 50-50 calls especially at scrum time and Munster could have sown up the game before Hadleigh Parkes got Scarlets' try on the hour.

At the same time, it's a difficult place to visit, there is a reason Scarlets haven't lost a Pro12 game at home since 2013.

But the depth in the Munster squad is extraordinary right now and that was evident with Jack O'Donoghue and JJ Hanrahan coming off the bench to score a try each.

O'Donoghue is a star in the making. From what I have seen he has all the right attributes to be a leader in the future and he's big enough already so if the injuries can stay away he could have a long career ahead of him.

JJ was at his brilliant best when he came on. Despite only getting 35 minutes, he showed his class.

He's not quite on the Brian O'Driscoll scale in terms of his running style but he is only young and his centre of gravity is quite phenomenal - the run he made when he caught the ball deep and left a few would-be tacklers for dead was testament to that.

He will be a big loss but hopefully he will come back from Northampton an even better player.

It was also great to see CJ Stander and Dave Kilcoyne back in action - Kilcoyne played against Cardiff but it was a full 80 minutes this time and he can only get better. He made 21 carries against Scarlets and that's what Munster missed in his absence, himself and Stander are serious operators in the loose.

UNLUCKY

He was unlucky to miss out on the Six Nations with injury but Ireland's loss is Munster's gain.

This weekend's game against England is perfectly poised in the middle of the two breaks, three playing four in the world and one playing two in the Six Nations.

England looked impressive in the game against Wales and when you see the back-line they have now with all of those Bath guys, they are formidable. The back-line is solid but their pack isn't bad either. You have Billy Vunipola and a bulked-up Chris Robshaw to contend with.

But saying all that, England, like any team, have their frailties as well and they were very visible as Italy ran in three tries against them.

Anthony Watson's positioning can be suspect. It was an open running game against Italy but Ireland will be picking at the weaknesses there. It could come down to the battle of the two No 10s.

George Ford is very like Jonny Wilkinson. He takes the ball to the line and keeps the defence on their toes, and in doing that he gives England more options in attack and he is better than Owen Farrell with ball in hand.

I just can't wait for the game and I am heading up to it. It's going to be a massive weekend of rugby and let's not forget the huge game that Munster have tomorrow.

At this point of the season Glasgow at Irish Independent Park is probably the biggest game left for Munster. The Warriors will have a few guys missing with the Six Nations but so will Munster and it will be interesting to see how both sides adapt.

I have been impressed with what Denis Hurley has offered in recent games.

He and Keith Earls seem to play off each other well and he made some class offloads against Scarlets. He is relishing the role as captain and it would be great to see him lead Munster to victory over Glasgow.

Munster owe them one, especially after the heartache of the Pro12 semi-final defeat last year and then losing to them again in December.

It's the ultimate rugby weekend and wins for Munster and Ireland would do very nicely.

Irish Independent

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