Sunday 17 February 2019

Munster's talking heads hitting right notes

Scannell says communication skills vital as backline talents strike form when it matters

Pointing the way: Rory Scanell, here scoring a try against Castres, feels the Munster attack has found its mojo at the right time. Photo: Sportsfile
Pointing the way: Rory Scanell, here scoring a try against Castres, feels the Munster attack has found its mojo at the right time. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

One of the greatest challenges presented by rugby as a sport is its simple insistence that the ball must nearly always go backwards before it can go forwards.

Remove the kicking option and this is true all of the time. And so it naturally follows that, unlike many other popular sports, more of the game takes place behind the ball-player than it does in front of him.

This means that the player's eye-line is predominantly occupied by opponents; his team-mates are hidden from view. Hence, they are in the best position to tell him what to do because they can see the weak links, the space, the opportunity.

This being the case, the need for communication is key. A player needs to react to what he can see but also what he cannot see and for this he needs the support of his team-mates to be his unseen guide.

All smooth-oiled attacks can seamlessly link words with deeds; it was no coincidence that in recent times Munster, minus so many key players and often deploying different combinations from week to week, were unable to join the dots.

But now, at a time of the season when they need it most, primed to qualify for the Champions Cup knockouts for an 18th season in 21 attempts, Johann van Graan's men have clicked but the key to the changing circumstances has been unchanged personnel.

From a coherent scrum base, the belated assurance of an Irish international half-back pairing and the comforting presence of two midfielders remaining - just - blissfully injury-free, has accelerated the province's attacking shape as 2019 dawns with much promise.

"We're coming into a bit of form now and it's definitely what we needed going into this weekend," says Rory Scannell who, along with his scrum-half Conor Murray and outside centre Chris Farrell, have emerged from complicated injury to settle into an incipiently compelling force.

"We're working on our attack every week since the start of the season. It was a bit of a work-on from last season and probably where we let ourselves down in the later part of the season.

"It's definitely getting better in the last number of weeks. But you've guys coming back to full fitness which helps. Joey Carbery is slotting in nicely. Chris Farrell is fully fit and back in the mix which is massive for us.

"We're playing some good rugby at the moment and it is an important time of the year to be doing it."

Now they're all playing - and talking together too. It may not be heard amidst the feverish fervour of the Thomond terraces and beyond this Saturday night under lights, but without communication skills there will be no ball skills.

Intuition requires interaction. And those who cannot see all ahead of them are guided by those behind them who can.

"I played a lot of ten through school and from that point of view, I like to get good communications from the guys outside me and that's what I am trying to do for Joey," explains Scannell.

"I try to tell him where the space is and when he knows where that space is, he is more than likely going to be able to take it. I try to give as many options as I can, left and right foot in the middle of the field.

"Joey's been away in the autumn with Ireland so it was good to get out in the last two European games together, it's definitely important. When you start playing with guys more, you start to get more comfortable.

It's been hard because it's such a competitive squad and lads have gotten opportunities.

"And Chris is only just back as well so the three of us haven't played a whole lot together but I've enjoyed the last couple of games and hopefully it will be the same this weekend.

"With Chris, his physicality is massive but he's a very good ball-carrier, his skills are really good. When you have a threat like that outside you, he tends to take the defenders away from me which is great.

"And his communication on the field is vital, he is always giving you options and with Joey there too it is all combining nicely and you could see that on Friday night against Gloucester."

Of course, Carbery lights the blue touchpaper of invention, his outstanding performance symbolising his side's emergence from the potential wreckage of defeat in Castres when he and his side's European challenge threatened to implode.

"It's hard sometimes to bounce back from things like that, but I was very impressed with Joey. On the Monday, he just put it all behind him and really focused on the following game.

"Then he just went straight out and trained like he normally does. He's been working hard on his kicking as well and that really showed in the last couple of weeks which is great.

'He's just been so calm under pressure. Last year with Leinster he probably wasn't starting at ten in a lot of those big European games.

"It's been a great experience for him this year to start in those games. He's shown outstanding character.

"He's playing unbelievable rugby. He had a disappointing day in Castres but since then he is playing some of the best rugby of his career.

"His kicking has been outstanding in the last couple of games. He's going to be very important to our season."

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