Monday 20 August 2018

Red Army can sip sweet win in Bordeaux

Tactical nous, united team, and perfect lead-in is key

Niall Scannell during training. Photo: Sportsfile
Niall Scannell during training. Photo: Sportsfile

David Wallace

The excitement is building around Munster, and the players got out at the right time after their brilliant win over Toulon. Two victories over Southern Kings and Cheetahs later, and the players are prepared for an epic clash with Racing 92.

It was a great win at Bloemfontein. Cheetahs are very difficult to beat on the Highveld, but credit to Munster they got there in the end. It's also a great confidence and fitness booster when you win at altitude in a game played with such intensity. 

CJ Stander goes through his stretches. Photo: Sportsfile
CJ Stander goes through his stretches. Photo: Sportsfile

It was brilliantly timed. To get away from Ireland after their win over Toulon, the social side of it and the team bonding, it's all invaluable. Munster didn't pick up many injuries and Johann van Graan must have been thrilled to get them away from the media hype, down to South Africa, compete the clean sweep, and now back for the semi-final.

They have had the best preparation for the semi-finals, and the team selections were mixed up nicely to give players game-time but also to provide the crucial rest period ahead of such a pivotal game in their season.

The win was so important with Cheetahs behind them in the Guinness PRO14, but it's all about the momentum and fitness now as they come back to sea level. 

Munster were off to a bit of a slow start in both games, but they were massively professional after that, and they will need to replicate that form this weekend in Bordeaux.

The likes of Rory Scannell and Ian Keatley are playing with such confidence at the moment. They are two guys who can really control the game, and put Munster deep into opposition territory.

Munster had a long, hard season emotionally and physically in 2016-'17 before their European semi-final. Their backs were really to the wall when they came up against an in-form Saracens side. 

There were injuries to big names too, but this year Munster seem more ready to take on a fellow European heavyweight in the final four. The team are certainly on a good path. 

Racing 92 didn't have their full-strength starting 15 in their 42-27 defeat at Toulouse in the Top 14 last weekend, but they still played with a strong selection. It will be interesting to see what changes are made to a team containing the likes of Dan Carter. However, they will always be strong with their huge depth of world-class players.

FOCUS That defeat will hurt them a bit in terms of their confidence but I am sure all of their focus was on Munster this weekend. Nevertheless, the Munster stock is on the way up and they are well poised for the scalp of another Top 14 giant.

Carter is obviously their stand-out player even if he doesn't always start anymore. He can make such an impact off the replacements' bench. He is a fantastic operator there. 

Donnacha Ryan will be a thorn in the Munster side too, and Leone Nakarawa will be a big threat if he is selected. When you play against a player like him it's all about swarming the tackles. 

Munster hunted in packs in their defensive displays against Racing already this season, and you would expect them to flood the passing channels, with two players going in on the tackle, when they look to bring down Nakarawa again. You can limit him to some extent but he will always get in one or two offloads.

It would be huge if Munster were able to deprive Racing off the ball in the opening 20 minutes and that's when you want to see them firing. You expect Racing to try and take the game to Munster. It is likely to be a similar onslaught as Cheetahs last weekend. It will be a nice dry, hot day in the south of France and last weekend might have been great preparation from that point of view.

Racing will try and build up a lead. They know Munster will always back their fitness to bring them back into the game if they fall behind early. But Munster need to bring the high levels of physicality from the off. 

They have to be really aggressive and dominant in weathering that storm, and getting their way back into the game. Racing built up a lead in Paris when these sides last met, but Munster found a way back in; hopefully, this time Munster can secure the victory. 

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport