Tuesday 21 November 2017

Off to a flyer but Cheetahs can bite back

Defensive play is vital here as Munster seek second victory

Conor Murray in training this week
Conor Murray in training this week

David Wallace

Round one is out of the way and Munster got up and running in the best possible style - now it's about showing that they mean business and they need another big performance to seal victory over an unpredictable Cheetahs outfit.

But it was all plain sailing last weekend, and that was due to Munster's superb ability to score tries, and be clinical under pressure.

Munster are playing with pace now, especially in the back-three. Andrew Conway looked very sharp again. It is going to be interesting to see how it pans out during the season in the backline but there is an embarrassment of riches.

Alex Wootton has added so much there, and it was great to see him getting over for a try. Earlsly was in top form last year and especially during the Ireland tour, and there's plenty more depth, not to mention the likes of Zebo and Darren Sweetnam, to cause teams problems and give management a big selection headache.

The performance of young loosehead prop Liam O'Connor was another one of the big talking points from the Treviso game. He put himself about massively, with 15 tackles, and that work-rate is invaluable at such a young age - when he tags on a bit more experience Munster could have another top-class operator on that side of the scrum.

But all in all it's just great to see Munster getting over for tries. Sometimes it's tricky on the first outing to be that clinical and take points when they are on offer, but in the opening weekend against Treviso they blitzed the Italians. Munster had the bonus point sown up before half-time and scored six tries in all.

JJ Hanrahan will be hoping to be involved against the Cheetahs tomorrow. Photo: Sportsfile
JJ Hanrahan will be hoping to be involved against the Cheetahs tomorrow. Photo: Sportsfile

Of course Munster have a much vaunted defence, and against Treviso they showed no sign of letting up, and didn't concede a try in that game.

Mike Sherry came on as a replacement in that game and that is such a boost to the ranks too. He had such a hard time of it with the injuries and hopefully the worst is behind him. 

Serious

On the flip-side of that it was tough to see Dan Goggin going off with a serious knee injury. He was another player who had a great 2016-'17 after coming through the academy, and he has a great future even if he has to spend some time on the side-lines now.

Munster's Guinness PRO14 Round 2 tie is completely out of left-field with Cheetahs coming to town. They showed the threats they possess against Ulster when they ran in three miraculous tries, but there was plenty of evidence to suggest they can be got at too.

Cheetahs are a bit unstructured in attack and defence: when there is loose ball they can find it hard to handle the counter-attack and to stick to their structures, so it could be possible to break them down from that point of view.

In attack, they have serious threats and speed, but that comes back to the Munster players trusting their defensive structure and the work-rate that comes with it. But what we have seen this year and last, that defensive wall seems to be quite strong for Munster. Munster are a very, very hard team to break down and they will need to stick to their guns rigidly for this one.

The set-piece is where Munster should have a big advantage and that's where thy will hope to do most damage. Munster's scrum and lineout are usually impeccable and it can be the foundation for their attack to cut loose and bring their own pace out wide into effect.

But no matter what sort of planning goes into a game like this, Cheetahs are an unknown quantity and they will remain that way until after the first few games where teams can start to pre-empt their tactics a bit. But if Munster give Cheetahs field to run into it could be a long evening for the Munster defence.

But Rassie Erasmus is far too experienced to send out a side who are vulnerable to that, and there's plenty of leaders in the Munster ranks so they will know to stick to the game-plan that will gradually break down the Cheetahs' resistance.

It may not be as easy as it was at times last weekend, but the tries should eventually come and then Munster can express themselves a bit more as they look to build momentum ahead of another crunch clash with Ospreys in Round 3.

Irish Independent

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