Tuesday 19 November 2019

Jerry Flannery: The lads are primed to unleash a huge game this week

Munster's Dave O'Callaghan attempts to score a try in Guinness PRO12. Health Minister Leo Varadkar said there is concern that banning sponsorship by alcohol firms would cause funding difficulties for sporting organisations.
Munster's Dave O'Callaghan attempts to score a try in Guinness PRO12. Health Minister Leo Varadkar said there is concern that banning sponsorship by alcohol firms would cause funding difficulties for sporting organisations.

Jerry Flannery

This week is probably as big as it gets for Munster this season. Win tomorrow against Saracens and we'll be right back in the hunt to reach the Champions Cup knock-out stages. We don't even want to talk about any other outcome.

Carrying a bonus point win into a game like this is almost the perfect preparation - the only thing that annoyed us was the way we took the foot off the accelerator against Zebre.

It was good to go over there and get the bonus point because they have caught out teams before, but the chat at half time was that we had to make sure and push on for as long as we could.

We went in 24-0 up at half-time and it only took a few minutes to get the extra try. Ideally you want to follow that with a convincing, intense finish to the game building into the Saracens game. But we didn't get that and we drove home the point to the lads - we have got to be ruthless and push on in the second-half.

But there was loads of good stuff to come from the game too. Continuity-wise, a lot of guys hadn't played much rugby and they came back in, and came through it unscathed, but failing to keep up the momentum late on probably didn't help them too much. Still though, lads like James Cronin, Niall Scannell, Keith Earls and Johne Murphy got on and they hadn't got a lot of game time lately.

One guy I was personally delighted for was Dave O'Callaghan. He's had a tough few months through injury, but to make the impact he has made is huge. He showed his versatility lately by playing lock for the A team and for the seniors over in Glasgow and it's great to have him back fit. He brings an awful lot in terms of his carries, has a good tackle-focus and a high work-rate. He has made a real impact.

Afterwards we stayed overnight and we flew back in to Dublin the next day. Considering we have Sarries tomorrow we decided to give lads some good recovery time, so the lads that played got Monday off to rest up. Some of them had to come in for treatment, but we felt it was important to face into this week with a clean slate. Then the focus quickly turned to Saracens.

While the guys have been preparing for their next opponents all along, as a coaching group we have had our eye on Saracens for a while now. There has been plenty of footage digested and talk of tactics, but after a busy week we are ready for what will be a huge test.

From all of our analysis, the main stand-out point is how dangerous they are from unstructured play. Ahead of the last game in Thomond Park a big focus was that two-thirds of their tries had come off unstructured play. Players like Ashton, Strettle, De Kock, Wigglesworth and Goode are very dangerous in that area. They have a good kick-chase focus, they put a lot of contestable kicks out and they play with a lot of intensity.

In addition to attacking off unstructured play, they have big carriers like Mako Vunipola and Billy Vunipola who are used for gaining yards when they stick rigidly to their structure. I think Jamie George has gone very well since Schalk Brits got injured and he has become more and more prominent as a ball-carrier. We need to be aware of these guys off first-phase especially.

There is no point beating about the bush though: we need to win this game. It is as simple as that. It is a big game for us and it is vital that we strike the right balance when picking our team and tactics.

Things went well for us when we played them earlier in the pool in Thomond Park, but I think Saracens showed very, very little of what they do well against us that day. I watched an awful lot of Saracens coming into that game in Thomond Park and I saw very little of the threats we had expected, so I am sure they will be keen to put that right. They are going to be an awful lot stronger tomorrow, and the fact that they are playing in front of their home crowd will lift them too.

But no doubt there will be a good few patches of red support there. The Munster travelling fans have always been a great lift to us wherever we went and I'm sure it will be no different tomorrow.

All going well, we'll be heading back to Thomond Park to face Sale with a win in the bag. But to do that we need to replicate the effort and intensity that we showed against them in October. It's a big task, but the lads are ready.

Irish Independent

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