Saturday 16 December 2017

Red Army have stepped up a notch

Erasmus' side beginning to look unstoppable in quest for glory

Darren Sweetnam in action during an indoor session at UL. Photo: Sportsfile
Darren Sweetnam in action during an indoor session at UL. Photo: Sportsfile

David Wallace

It's another weekend where a new Pro12 side will attempt to halt Munster in their tracks - at this stage Munster must have a huge target on their backs, but I don't think that will matter.

Scarlets are a great team, don't get me wrong; you're not in the top four in the Pro12 unless you're consistently stringing together top-notch displays. But at home in Thomond Park, and in the form they are in, Munster should have too much, as should Ireland against France tomorrow.

Dan Goggin does a handstand during an indoor session. Photo: Sportsfile
Dan Goggin does a handstand during an indoor session. Photo: Sportsfile

They're two very similar games, because France are another side capable of ripping up the script and beating Ireland even if it is in Dublin. They also like to play with free-flowing flair as well, but France aren't far enough along the curve to beat Ireland just yet - they're still a work in progress.

But back to last weekend and Munster's brilliant victory over a quality side like Ospreys, and in their own backyard. Munster were just class - they showed such great mental strength, and belligerence and they played very well too. 

Ospreys were dominant in the first half-hour but when Munster got that try before the break, you felt there was a chink in Ospreys' armour. And then in the second half they took control of the game. 

Even though Ospreys exited well with good kicks from Sam Davies, Munster countered that, and they were relentless with Darren Sweetnam, Ronan O'Mahony and Andrew Conway attacking excellently from deep. That gave them a foothold in the Ospreys territory and with Dave Kilcoyne crashing over late on, it was a sweet way to beat one of their main rivals for the Pro12 title.

Going forward, it sends out a message that Munster are never beaten. Psychologically, that helps an awful lot, that Munster have the mental fortitude to grind out the result no matter what. And they can take that into the Scarlets game this weekend, although this game will hopefully be slightly more comfortable.

The run-in is a lot tougher than it was last year for Munster, and realistically there is no easy game left in the campaign. They'll have to fight all the way if they want a play-off, and hopefully a home one. 

Surge

Scarlets are fourth in the table so they are in the hunt. Then you go away to Cardiff Blues, they are still there or thereabouts, and they could have a late surge considering they are only missing a few of their stars. 

Then away to Zebre and home to Glasgow. Even though the latter one is a home game, it's a tough fixture. And then at home to Ulster, Treviso away and at home Connacht. All of those games are either inter-pros, where you throw away the script, or they are tricky ones in general.

And Ireland should do the same when they welcome a resurgent French side to Dublin this weekend. France are going to be predictably unpredictable but that doesn't make them that much easier to deal with.

They are very strong going forward, with fantastic wingers, massive bulk in their side, and then you have to stop players like Louis Picamoles who is their most obvious threat.

But throughout their team they have big units, and Ireland will try and play around that. I expect to see a strong kicking game from Ireland, making the French wingers turn and feel uncomfortable when they put the ball in behind them or in the air on top of them. 

It's something Ireland haven't done this Six Nations; they didn't do it against Scotland even though there was such a hard line in front of them, or against Italy when they didn't need to. That aerial bombardment could be a factor in this game though. And then Ireland will try and move France around the pitch, with high-phase play, hopefully resourcing the ball well to keep them moving while having them on the back foot, and breaking them down that way. 

That's what you expect, and hopefully Ireland will have too much nous for France. In my view, they will come out on top and after that the big one is really going away to Wales, because I think Ireland will beat France and England. 

The game in the Principality Stadium will be made all the harder if Wales win against Scotland. Wales would still be in the hunt. But all going well in Cardiff, it then comes down to Ireland versus England . . .

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