Sport Munster Rugby

Saturday 26 May 2018

Munster must step up to compete with Blues

Munster 20 Edinburgh 16

Keith Earls scores Munster's second try during the Guinness PRO14 semi-final play-off match against Edinburgh. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Keith Earls scores Munster's second try during the Guinness PRO14 semi-final play-off match against Edinburgh. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

In the same sentence, Munster captain Peter O'Mahony summed up both the yearning need for his side to bridge a seven-year title itch but also the intense difficulty his side continue to have in trying to scratch it. "It would mean a lot," he says, before adding plaintively, "but we have to go and play."

Munster remain just as close as at any time in those seven long years since their 2011 League triumph against then European champions Leinster - perhaps a portentous omen? - to a consummation of that desperate yearning. However, there arguably still remains an even lengthier, desperate yawning gap between wish and fulfilment.

Not for the first time in a period which has seen Munster reach an impressive nine semi-finals - winning just two - the questions persist as to whether the virtues that are enough to reach a certain plateau can be fashioned into something quite different to gain the summit of their ambition. And that's the key word, in all its forms. Ambition.

Not quite enough to merely harbour it as a desire in one's heart and soul; non-negotiable in a red shirt; but also to portray it in the manner that the game is played. Once more, what proved sufficient to this certain day was immediately assembled as evidence to prosecute the case that a repeat will be woefully unsuited to the more difficult task ahead.

Munster's Darren Sweetnam is tackled by Blair Kinghorn of Edinburgh. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Munster's Darren Sweetnam is tackled by Blair Kinghorn of Edinburgh. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Some will cogently argue that Munster's record since 2011, achieved despite the steady erosion of their greatest professional side, not to mention a tumultuous transition featuring no less than five head coaches, marks them down as a side who have over-achieved.

History will judge this era of Munster; the present is less forgiving.

And certainly Leinster, over-whelming favourites to add a fourth European star to their crests next week, would be ruthlessly vindictive in the RDS a fortnight from now on the basis of the sides' respective form-lines.

In mitigation, this was a game Munster could not afford to lose and their tightness reflected that fact.

Nobody will give them a prayer in Dublin, which will suit them and, unlike the opening half-hour on Saturday, the men in red will not operate as turnstiles in the tackle.

But more than mere courage will be required. Munster need a game-plan that will pose different questions to those presented to a limited Edinburgh side who, had they housed better players with greater nous than their hosts, could have claimed this notable scalp.

Simon Zebo, with daughter Sofia, waves farewell to the Thomond Park faithful after Munster’s victory over Edinburgh on Saturday. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Simon Zebo, with daughter Sofia, waves farewell to the Thomond Park faithful after Munster’s victory over Edinburgh on Saturday. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Munster remain the side who have kicked more than any other in the League and they stubbornly stuck to that typecasting and, for the most part, executed it poorly and when players were in positions of attacking strength.

For all the fuss about installing JJ Hanrahan as the first-choice out-half, the alteration made minimal difference given the stilted ambition his side brought to bear.

Johaan van Graan referred more than once to how his side had expected an "arm-wrestle", but surely his side thought more of themselves than to merely respond in kind? Ultimately, the approach became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

His counterpart, Richard Cockerill, albeit speaking from the losers' chair, out-lined how his side's tactics had been undermined by that of the winners'.

"We'd rather not play like that and it's hard to play against a side who play like that," he said. "It's not a criticism but it's how they play. We'd prefer to play with the ball in hand and in terms of rugby, we probably did better in that respect."

Now a neutral himself, Cockerill finds it difficult to look beyond Leinster booking their place in the final. "The way they play is to control teams and territory. With respect to our guys, Leinster have probably got a little bit more firepower than we have.

Munster's Rhys Marshall scores his side's first against Edinburgh at Thomond Park. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Munster's Rhys Marshall scores his side's first against Edinburgh at Thomond Park. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

"Munster will have to be very accurate to execute a game plan like that and control a team like Leinster. Because Leinster have got more threat and a bit more firepower across the team.

Brilliance

"My belief is that if you are going to beat big teams you are going to have to play rugby at some point. You need to score tries. They scored a couple against us but one was from a lineout and one was from a bit of brilliance. My own opinion is you have to play a bit of rugby to score, you have to open the game up at times.

"There were opportunities out there for Munster to attack us when we were short of numbers and I was grateful they kicked it. You choose how you want to play. Johann and his coaches choose how they want to play. They have got a semi-final this year in Europe. Now they are in a semi-final against Leinster. The proof will be in the pudding whether they will go on and win."

Even when Edinburgh did them favours, Munster not only abandoned any serrated edge to their game but also a ruthless one.

Seven points up after an early gift, they led just 7-6 at the break as the visitors coughed up scoring chances.

With the intensity ramped up in the third quarter, Munster then pulled out a 17-6 lead but ceded ten points within as many minutes to render the final quarter an unnecessary nail-biter.

They got there in the end. How much further remains questionable.

Munster - S Zebo; A Conway (D Sweetnam 31-40 HIA; 41), S Arnold, R Scannell, K Earls; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray; J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 61), R Marshall (M Sherry 70), S Archer (C Parker 17), J Kleyn (G Grobler 52), B Holland, P O'Mahony capt, J O'Donoghue, CJ Stander (R Copeland 61).

Edinburgh - B Kinghorn; D Fife, M Bennett, C Dean (J Johnstone 76), D van der Merwe; J van der Walt (D Weir 64), S Hidalgo-Clyne (D Fowles 56); J Lay (A Dell 52), S McInally capt (N Cochrane 70), S Berghan (WP Nel 52), B Toolis, G Gilchrist, L Carmichael, B Mata (C du Preez 64), M Bradbury.

Ref - Nigel Owens (WRU)

Irish Independent

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