Saturday 15 December 2018

Must-win clash will bring best out of Munster

Early intensity will be needed to put Castres on back foot

Munster’s Keith Earls wraps up well against the elements during training in Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster’s Keith Earls wraps up well against the elements during training in Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile

David Wallace

Munster will feel that they left the win behind them at the U Arena last weekend. But they commanded the game for large periods and have a chance to make amends against Castres.

Every time Munster got a lead against Racing 92, a few mental errors and ill-discipline cost them but Munster were the better team. Racing had their moments but their moments were more fleeting - the opening minutes of both halves where they scored tries.

Jean Kleyn catches a ball during training. Photo: Sportsfile
Jean Kleyn catches a ball during training. Photo: Sportsfile

Perhaps it's a mark of how strong Racing are, considering the way the way they finished the game and scored those vital penalties when it mattered most.

Munster were doing well at times, in terms of playing in the right areas. Racing scored early and built up a lead but Munster dug deep and came back. Jean Kleyn scored a good try and Keith Earls looked really impressive - he was really incisive, and instigated and finished his own effort.

Conor Murray showed his leadership qualities with the three long-range penalties at the end. He hit the post once and missed another but then he scored one from inside his own half. It took massive courage.

But Donnacha Ryan put Munster back under pressure when he forced a penalty. It went to a ruck and Munster were deemed to have played it on the ground. I don't know how the referee saw that. From what I could see Munster went backwards and it looked like they might lose the ball but there was no sign from any camera angle that they infringed.

I thought that was unfair but Racing went down and scored another penalty so it might not have made a difference in the end. Munster were chasing the game and it led to those errors.

Ian Keatley was great and he got the back-line firing. Even for Chris Farrell's try, it was a brilliantly worked move. Keatley seems to be relishing the new attacking shape. His running game is brilliant and he has the likes of Rory Scannell, Farrell, Earls, Simon Zebo and Andrew Conway to come off his shoulder.

It was disappointing that he came off having just made a bit of an error at the end, but the game might have been over anyway. It in no way typifies his performance. He needs to take a lot of confidence from what he is doing and build on that.

Jamming The forwards invariably take care of the set-piece and get the half-backs good quality ball. But they need their back-line to get them in the right areas of the pitch before they can get their picking and jamming, and mauling game in check.

That has always been a strength for Munster, and it's great when you have a scrum-half like Murray controlling things too. When your backs are creating 20- or 30-metre line breaks, it makes life a lot easier.

The defeat in Paris last weekend is a big lesson for this Munster team. But the important thing is they did come away with something. Racing were going to go into the driving seat if they got a bonus-point win but Munster are still in charge of the pool.

Qualification for a home quarter-final is what they really wanted as well; that is now out of their hands. But they have Castres, a French team, at home. There is a good chance that will go well for them and they might get a winning bonus point. But Castres put a monster score on Leicester Tigers last week. They are a team that won't lie down easily either.

Munster will feel they were unlucky down in France when they played Castres earlier in the season. It could have gone both ways but Munster will be bullish going into this game. They will feel their backs are to the wall. It's a must-win match and that can bring the best out of Munster.

If Munster had qualified there was always a danger they could be going into this game a bit complacent. But you would hope they will come out all guns blazing and get a lead up early in the game. The longer Castres stay in the game the more dangerous they could be and the nerves could set in with Munster.

In the opening 15 or 20 minutes it's really important to play with an intensity that Castres can't live with especially in Thomond Park. Munster can't let Castres have any breathing space.

Munster need to come out like they did against Racing and Leicester at home. If it's not their try-line they are fighting for, it needs to be the gain-line. It's all about those inches all over the pitch.

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