| 13.7°C Dublin

James Coughlan: 'A more potent and focused attack will be needed in key Sarries clash'



On the rise: Munster will be looking for a leg up, just like Keith Earls in training this week, when they square off against Saracens tomorrow. Photo: Sportsfile

On the rise: Munster will be looking for a leg up, just like Keith Earls in training this week, when they square off against Saracens tomorrow. Photo: Sportsfile


On the rise: Munster will be looking for a leg up, just like Keith Earls in training this week, when they square off against Saracens tomorrow. Photo: Sportsfile

The equation seems pretty simple for Munster: get ten points from your last three games and you are more than likely to qualify. How ever those points are won is irrelevant, but it would be a help to deny Saracens the points at Allianz Park.

After they dropped points against Racing 92 and Saracens - and allowed both teams leave Thomond Park with points of their own - Munster need to win every game if they are going to top the group. It's a tough ask to go to Saracens and Racing and win.

Facing into this week's game, it's almost like a Champions League game where you take a 2-1 lead into an away leg with an away goal against you. It's dangerous territory.

If Racing get another bonus-point win at home to Ospreys this weekend as expected, you'd have to say they're favourites to win the group. Munster might have to be happy to get out as one of the best runners-up.

With all their injuries, issues and three straight losses, Ospreys could throw up the white flag now and everyone could get bonus points against them. Realistically, it's the next two games that will decide this group from a Munster point of view.


Both teams will be relatively happy after last weekend, but giving Saracens that one point gave them hope. They actually had lots of chances and could even have won the game only for their handling errors, so they'll be happy with their lot.

While they won the game and scored the game's only try, I think Munster needed to do more in attack. Without being there it is hard to contemplate how bad the conditions were, but it looked shocking. In those conditions I found it so surprising that Munster didn't look to the maul to make inroads. It's one of their big strengths and they left the play on the cutting-room floor.

Looking at Saracens last weekend, I saw a few chinks for Munster to attack. In my opinion, their scrum-half does not get into position as early as he should. There is an opportunity to get the likes of Keith Earls and Andrew Conway in the game earlier too rather than just opting for pick and go all the time. Munster have a very good coaching team so I'm sure they'll look at that this week.

The Munster scrum was a real positive. I thought Stephen Archer had a great game. Sarries have a very heavy pack with Will Skelton and Maro Itoje in the second-row, but I thought the Munster front-row held their own and dominated at times too.

You'd have to expect that Mark McCall will bring back a few of the big names; Owen Farrell, Jamie George and the Vunipolas will surely play. It's hard to imagine they won't go full strength against Munster at their own place.

Last week was a bruising encounter and it remains to be seen if everyone makes the plane. Already Tyler Bleyendaal, Dave Kilcoyne and Joey Carbery are sidelined and last week Rhys Marshall joined them. He is definitely a loss. Niall Scannell is number one, but having Rhys's impact off the bench is huge. He always makes his tackles and carries and is good for a couple of turnovers too.

But this is a chance for the next man, and that's the way Munster has always been. My own chance came when Nick Williams got injured. I got a shot and I stayed in. That's the nature of the beast: fellas get injured and it's up to the next guy to put his hand up.

Hooker is a specialist position though, they may go looking for a 'medical joker' at this busy time, but if you look at the impact Rónan Kelleher has made at Leinster, would it be so bad to give a young lad his chance?

The Leinster man is already being talked about as a possibility for Ireland in the spring, and in recent weeks JJ Hanrahan has entered the discussion too. I'm sure he is focused on nailing down his spot with Munster, but if he has a few good weeks and if he can lead Munster into the knockout stages of the competition he cannot be ignored.

Johnny Sexton's injury didn't look good, Jack Carty is struggling to oust Conor Fitzgerald in Connacht and Carbery still hasn't played this season for Munster.

I thought JJ had a real chance this year and his all-round game is excellent right now. He looks sharp and fit and he is linking really well with Rory Scannell at 12. As the season progresses and the pressure increases, I think we'll see even more of that partnership.

Last weekend Saracens were happy enough for Munster to have possession because they really didn't look like they were a threat. That has to change tomorrow. Munster's wingers need to be on the ball more often.

If Saracens can get their defensive line organised, they are so hard to break down and that's the key for this vital game.

Irish Independent