Friday 23 March 2018

Munster must gear up to get Carter threat

All Black legend Dan Carter is hoping to play for Racing 92 against Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday. Photo by Dave Winter/Icon Sport
All Black legend Dan Carter is hoping to play for Racing 92 against Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday. Photo by Dave Winter/Icon Sport
David Kelly

David Kelly

Quite a feat for all Pool Four sides to be laden with regret after a thrilling weekend's action on the continent.

Racing 92 assistant Ronan O'Gara's immediate reaction as the final whistle blew on his side's 22-18 victory over Leceister Tigers at the Stade Yves Manoir last Saturday evening was to thump the table in disgust.

Henry Chavancy had just spilled a chance for a potential fourth try and the bonus which would not alone have earned O'Gara's side the full five points, but also have denied their visitors the solitary point they smuggled back to the midlands.

"The reality is we should be disappointed we didn't get a bonus point win," says O'Gara. "Because the reality is that every point matters.

"Good players, great players realise it's the 80 minutes. Other people are happy to work around excuses, they don't appreciate how crucial that extra point is. But you can only fix that on the pitch.

"There's no point in having a meeting on Monday morning about it. It's no good. We have 80 minutes to do something. And that's what great players and great teams do, they find solutions in the now."

What they did confirm at their training session in Paris yesterday was that Dan Carter will be given every chance of making his Thomond Park debut on Saturday, presuming the Kiwi World Cup winner's troublesome calf doesn't pack in again. Brice Dulin will also travel should he complete a week's training.


In contrast to O'Gara, Matt O'Connor was in positively chipper mood as his side returned with a 4-1 match points deficit which, to him, represented something for the investment of occasional adventure and a resolution not demonstrated at any stage last season in Europe.

"Listen, we didn't do enough to get the win but by the time you get to round five or six that point is important," the former Leinster coach points out. "Without it, this would have been an afternoon wasted."

Munster didn't waste their afternoon in Castres either but they did waste a chance to gain the type of momentum that catapulted them beyond the hapless grasp of the Tigers and Racing last term.

A two-point haul is no disgrace, particularly as they may have ended up with only one, but the context is slightly different to what happened in Paris. Despite Rassie Erasmus stressing the point that Castres will have to come to Limerick in round six, they will not be pitching up as rivals, rather as cannon fodder.

By that stage, Munster may know what they need but Sunday's draw has raised the stakes significantly, particularly as the second successive December double-header against Leicester looms large.

It may sound quite daft but Leicester were probably a mite happier with their result in Paris than the hosts.

Munster tried to evince the same attitude but, matching their performance on the pitch, their message was far less convincing.

"When you come to places like Castres in France away from home in your first game of the European Cup, it's always a difficult, difficult task and I'm delighted that with the two points," Peter O'Mahony declares.

Billy Holland addresses the context; "Round one in France is probably the most difficult assignment you could get. It's a different kettle of fish in round five or six if they're out of it."

That's the bind; Leicester and Racing 92 will both fancy wins there as Castres' struggles in the Top 14 become more pronounced.

Away wins will be tougher to find in this pool this time around; asked was his side's inability to win away in Europe since 2015 a monkey on their backs, O'Connor remarked glibly, "Mate, there must be a hell of a lot of monkeys around because not many teams get away wins when it matters."

O'Gara's men hope to change that tune this weekend. For the French mean business after their embarrassing efforts last term and the extraordinary Leone Nakarawa will lead the charge after his starring role in Paris, where he scored one barely credible try and created two others for his side.

At times he resembled a human windmill, the giant hands soaring above the 6ft 7in frame seeking to free up space while a handful of Leicester players sought to quell him by seemingly hugging him violently. It was difficult to know what their tactic was in attempting to stop the raucous Fijian.

"We didn't do a great job of it," admitted O'Connor, who cautioned Munster ahead of round two. "He's a special athlete, a big man and he gets those offloads in all the time.

"He moves really well for a big man and once he's behind you, it's very difficult for you so that's the lesson, don't let him behind you! Those Fijian players love open spaces and they're very hard to stop when they get into them."

Munster's 22 missed tackles on Sunday raises another red flag, not to mention a second successive week of unacceptable indiscipline.

Defeat on Saturday would prove calamitous for their European hopes, regardless of what their exiting head coach says; Munster need to find the right emotional and mental pitch this week. Anyone who saw last night's documentary on Anthony Foley can plainly see the squad are still struggling with his loss.

"We called out to Olive Foley last week to meet her," adds Holland. "We're in constant contact with her and the family. I feel that the emotional side was right against Castres and last week. It's the technical stuff which is letting us down, exits and breakdowns."

And if Munster click?

"It could be nasty," warns O'Gara. "The ingredients are there for a long night which they always are in Thomond Park when Munster get momentum against a French team."

Holland is confident his side can locate that momentum. He knows they must.

"Physicality and attitude wise, we were spot on against Castres and we hope and expect it to be the same this weekend."

It will have to be or this season's European campaign could be over before it has really begun.

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