Saturday 23 November 2019

Play it again Reds: A repeat of last week will really test this Leinster team tomorrow

Munster's Tommy O'Donnell
Munster's Tommy O'Donnell

David Wallace

What a brilliant performance that was from Munster. I don't know about you, but I'd love to see how Leinster would cope in the face of a carbon copy display at the Aviva Stadium.

Nine tries, 64 points and an all-round excellent performance in defence and attack, the Munster players and management will be buzzing this week as they turn their focus towards Leinster.

The win must be qualified by saying that was an understrength Ulster, but I honestly cannot see how any Ulster team could have survived through that 80 minutes. The skills, intensity and accuracy was very impressive.

Munster were definitely aided by their flying start. Those two early punches in the fifth and eighth minutes were vital and they were well in control before Iain Henderson and John Cooney went off injured to further weaken Ulster.

There was a short phase around half-time when the previously unbeaten Ulster were battering away on the line, but Munster held out. On the back of a disappointing defensive display the week before they'll be very happy to hold solid. It was very, very positive.

Ability Once again Joey Carbery was on song and he has made very few stray steps since he arrived. His game management was better last weekend, but it's his big play ability that sets him apart. That pass off both sides is so accurate and crisp over 20 or 30 metres; it totally unlocks defences. He is just scintillating when he gets the ball and his try was outstanding too. He definitely softens defences and has the skills to release his backs.

Alongside him on debut was Alby Mathewson and I really enjoyed his style. Carbery and himself have zippy passes and I think they coupled up very well. He's not afraid to pick and jam near the line, is well able to clean out a ruck and he has incredible experience. He's a good foil for Carbery.

Then we had Tommy O'Donnell pushing himself to the top of the queue with a great performance. The manner of Tommy's two tries say a lot about him: one was close in, off a maul, and one was out wide where he showed his strength and pace to score. It is so good to see him playing with confidence, back in form and hungry for his place.

While it was a great day against Ulster, they still need to produce two, three and four weeks in a row, and maybe that will start this weekend. A more settled selection will help that along, and I expected to see the majority of the European team in action for this game.

There may be one or two guys with a lot of time under their belt who might appear from the bench, but if it was up to me I'd go as strong as possible. For Munster, the form and results have been streaky, so a bit of consistency and time playing together is important.

From a Leinster point of view, I think you'll see a lot more changes this week. A big factor is Leinster have a six-day turnaround before the Wasps game, and I suspect they may rest a handful of key players.

That was as good as their first-choice team against Connacht, while there is a lot of moving parts in the Munster team right now. Guys are coming back from injury, Chris Cloete didn't play at the weekend, Arno Botha was on the bench, CJ Stander impressed in his second game and he's already up to speed - and the stats back that up - and Peter O'Mahony his third.

But going into face Leinster is the real tester for a back-row. Seán O'Brien is back with a good hour under his belt, in-form Josh van der Flier might not start after three 80 minutes in a row, while Dan Leavy will be keen for game-time after his lay-off. Jack Conan, Rhys Ruddock, Max Deegan, Scott Fardy... the options they have are unbelievable.

One guy that has been going really well for them is Devin Toner. I've always though the agility he has for such a big guy is impressive. He can fire out those go-go-gadget arms and claim balls you'd think are beyond him. But even the touches he now has in open play are incredible - just look at his pass for the James Lowe try against Edinburgh.

With so many options for both sides, it will be a fascinating game for sure. Maybe it's not wise for Leinster to go full strength, but I think it is wise for Munster. I'd say there will be sweaty palms on both sides when the teams are named. There is so much to play for in every position.

Bragging We always said that these Munster-Leinster games were a real Litmus test of where you are as a team. So much relies on the game: international squad pecking order, bragging rights and league points are all huge.

Let's not get too excited - facing the double winners is a formidable challenge. But if Munster can recreate the confident play of last weekend there is no reason why they cannot win. With Carbery firing the way he is and his ability to unlock defences, Munster are so dangerous with their fantastic finishing ability out wide through a number of players.

Right now, Munster are top try scorers in the Guinness PRO14 with 25, an average of five per game, and you'd have to say these are some of the most exciting outside backs Munster have ever had. Keith Earls, Alex Wootton, Darren Sweetnam and Andrew Conway all look very sharp. If they see enough ball, it could be a good night in the capital.

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