Wednesday 21 November 2018

Good start but Ospreys will test Van Graan

Defensive work needs to pick up and Nienaber must be replaced

Munster scrum coach Jerry Flannery speaks to his players during squad training at the University of Limerick. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster scrum coach Jerry Flannery speaks to his players during squad training at the University of Limerick. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

David Wallace

It was a great start for Johann van Graan against Zebre last weekend but hosting a smarting Ospreys side will be a totally different proposition. This could be another opportunity for the Munster squad to make a big statement under their new management.

Munster scored five tries in Parma, and when you take Zebre's relatively strong selection into account, it was a very good win against a team that prides itself on doing well in home games, as Ulster will know from the start of the season. 

Zebre is a tricky outing, and despite handing over control to Felix (Jones) and Jerry (Flannery), Johann would have wanted to get off to a good start.

Munster played some good rugby and I'm sure they couldn't have dreamt of a better start for their new management set-up.

There are a lot of young guys coming through currently at Munster, and the conveyor belt looks fantastic judging by last weekend's selection. It's great those guys are getting a chance to perform. Crucially, those players came into a team that still had plenty of experienced heads dotted throughout it. It wasn't a completely fresh team.

You want guys coming in to learn what the standards are, and learn from guys who are playing in the bigger games on a consistent basis. When you have the likes of Rory Scannell, Simon Zebo and Billy Holland all there, it gives the young guys guidance and that's brilliant for all concerned. 

Andy Farrell who assisted in training this week after Jacques Nienaber’s departure. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Andy Farrell who assisted in training this week after Jacques Nienaber’s departure. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

It helps that Munster had that standard of player available to them, although some of those guys would have wanted to be playing with Ireland last weekend.

Nevertheless, they focused on the challenge in Italy and got a big lead in the first half before letting Zebre back into the game with two tries. From that point it looks like Munster need to get somebody handling their defensive game. Jacques Nienaber is gone and you want someone there with ownership of the defensive game. It's so important, getting guys in the right frame of mind and on the same page in D. To that extent, it was great to see Andy Farrell with Munster earlier in the week.

SHOCKED Onto this weekend, I was looking up the Conference A table and was shocked to see Ospreys bottom of it, in what isn't really a competitive conference. They should be well in the mix at the top of the standings. You wonder where their heads are at.

Munster are seen as one of those teams, where if you take points from that game it can reignite your season. That's a danger Munster have to face, especially with teams that have quality in their ranks. 

Munster have buckets of talent but with the disruption in terms of the change of coach, it might be a vulnerable period for them. Ospreys will look at that and smell blood but hopefully Munster will use their home advantage to secure another secure important victory. 

It could be a brilliant start for Johann in his first couple of games and then into the Champions Cup. Munster's European season will hinge on these back-to-back games. Munster and Leicester Tigers know each other very well and there is a long history and tradition there. 

Leicester are fourth in the Premiership with just Exeter, Saracens and Bath ahead of them. They are very dangerous and although they may not have been flying so high in the Premiership in recent years, they are a team that always have their homework done. 

Munster really need to start building towards that block of games mentally. Getting the Irish contingent back will add to an already exciting camp. And it's great for those Irish players to come back into a winning team. Everyone in the squad needs to row in behind Van Graan. He's still just fresh in, he needs help. 

Jerry and Felix will need support and the senior players need to take this chance to continue their development as leaders.

Ultimately, the players are the guys making the decisions on the pitch and driving it. When a team has players driving standards that's when it really starts to click.

The likes of CJ Stander has to become a real leader as well. You have Peter O'Mahony, Billy Holland and Conor Murray to name just a few. A team laced with leaders is a very potent one.

left pod.jpg

Subscribe to The Left Wing, Independent.ie's Rugby podcast, with Luke Fitzgerald and Will Slattery for the best discussion and analysis each week. From in depth interviews with some of Irish rugby's biggest stars to unmatched insights into the provinces and the national team, The Left Wing has all your rugby needs covered.

Listen and subscribe to The Left Wing on iTunes and Soundcloud

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport