Wednesday 19 September 2018

Munster start shaping up for something big

South Africa trip coming at the right time as they prepare for semi

Andrew Conway celebrating with Billy Holland after scoring Munster’s second try against
Toulon in April. Picture: BRENDAN MORAN/SPORTSFILE
Andrew Conway celebrating with Billy Holland after scoring Munster’s second try against Toulon in April. Picture: BRENDAN MORAN/SPORTSFILE
Sam Arnold being tackley by Ma’a Nonu Picture: BRENDAN MORAN/SPORTSFILE

David Wallace

Munster pulled off a giant-killing act last weekend and the trip to South Africa comes at the right time as they look to build on a huge win over Toulon, consolidate their place in the PRO14, and move towards a Champions Cup semi-final.

Going into last weekend there was a feeling that Toulon were hitting form at the right time, and they looked like a real tough test for this Munster side.

You would never bet against Munster, especially at home in Europe, but the French were on the back of a 49-0 hammering of Clermont in the Top 14.

Munster required a massive performance and that's exactly what they got. Conor Murray and Andrew Conway took their chances incredibly well.

Murray again showed how smart and aware he is, and that experience counts for so much in those situations.

He spotted the error, was in like a flash and we are so used to seeing him coming up with those big plays.

He does the right thing at the right time and that was the perfect example of it. You have to have the guts to actually go and do something like that. He backed himself, he knew the rules and scored an unconventional try.

It was amusing to watch his opposition number not reacting. Murray was the only player to go for that ball and it turned out to be a massive boost at a pivotal time in the game.

It was an incredibly close game. There was a lot for Nigel Owens to keep him busy, but both sides played well and it made for a superb spectacle.

Munster's form at home has been exceptional this season. Toulon scored from that lovely off-load between Francois Trinh-Duc and Mathieu Bastareaud, for Chris Ashton's try. But for the vast majority of the game Munster dominated in defence.

It's all the more satisfying that Munster have had to deal with the change of a defensive coach mid-season. JP Ferreira came in recently, and he has added to the brilliant work that went on before him when Jacques Nienaber was there as defence coach. It's a difficult task coming in mid-season, especially when there is already a defensive system in place.

Another aspect of how good things are at Munster right now is the embarrassment of riches in the backline, even at centre. Sam Arnold and Rory Scannell lorded it against Bastareaud and Ma'a Nonu at the weekend. Behind them Conway was an obvious stand-out with his try the highlight of the performance.

SCHOOLBOY

He made sure his feet weren't in touch to catch that ball. It was a schoolboy error from the Toulon winger Josua Tuisova. He went way out of position to prevent a potential early lineout, but the ball didn't even go out of play.

Conway just took off and there was no stopping him from there. His try showed why he is so highly rated. There was skill, speed and balance all on show and that was the match-winner.

The crowd went wild. It was at the perfect time and it was incredible how it changed the game in Munster's favour. But the fans were excellent and they have been given credit for playing their part again.

It was sad to see Simon Zebo go off early, but he showed his fantastic work-rate to get back and prevent an early Toulon try. That might be his last European game at Thomond Park, and you could see the tears in his eyes as he left the field. You can clearly see how much playing for Munster means to him.

It was a great weekend for the Irish provinces in the Champions Cup, and now Munster have made the journey to South Africa for a mini tour where they face Southern Kings first.

It might be better to get them before they face Cheetahs, who are just behind Munster in the standings, but this tour has a deeper meaning too.

When you go away on international duty you go back to learning all of the Ireland calls. And although the moves may be similar at your province, the calls are all different. It will be a great chance for the internationals to reintegrate back into the Munster set-up.

It's amazing to think that there is a Champions Cup semi-final against Racing 92 around the corner now. And Munster have every chance of going to France and reaching a final.

The trip to South Africa presents new challenges and new opportunities, away from all the hype that will undoubtedly build up. It's a great opportunity to do something different.

They will be getting to know each other that bit more over these couple of weeks. The season has shaped up nicely for the province.

Who knows what's in store now.

Irish Independent

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