Sunday 18 November 2018

Steady display bodes well for semi-final test

Victory the main thing in tricky clash with Cockerill's outfit

Rory Scannell is tackled by James Johnston. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Rory Scannell is tackled by James Johnston. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

David Wallace

It might be all about Bilbao and the Champions Cup final this weekend, but behind the scenes the Munster players have their preparations under way for a tilt at Leinster, and I'm confident they can give them a rattle in Dublin next weekend.

Munster suffered a bit after their defeat against Racing 92. But they put that Champions Cup semi-final loss behind them last weekend, and performed heroics at Thomond Park in a vital play-off match once again.

JJ Hanrahan kicking a penalty. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
JJ Hanrahan kicking a penalty. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

It was a very good win too, and it came against a team that you don't want to get into an arm wrestle with. Edinburgh have been so consistent under Richard Cockerill of late and they play with the perfect blend and style that is suited to cup rugby. 

Edinburgh played very well and their defence was excellent, they played the game in all the right areas but when they attacked Munster's scramble defence was equally effective, and their more dangerous strike runners made the difference. 

That game was Simon Zebo's last in Munster colours at Thomond Park, and of course he ended up putting on a stunning display for his adoring fans. His break and subsequent pass to Keith Earls, for his try, was nothing short of unbelievable. 

That alone demonstrated what Munster will be missing when he makes the trip to Paris in the summer. Everyone at Munster will be sad to see him leave, but these things happen in sport.

Rhys Marshall also had a lot of work to do with the ball to score his try. But he stepped the opposition scrum-half, and then had to take a couple of guys over the line with him. I was thrilled for JJ Hanrahan to see him have such a positive impact against Edinburgh too. It's very difficult when your season is broken up a bit and you play in fits and starts on the back of a bad injury. 

He gave confidence to the players around him against Edinburgh, he was assured and kicked well from his hands and of course from the kicking tee. His conversion of Earls' try and the last penalty were two highlights. His upturn in form could be crucial for the last few weeks of 2017-'18, if he's the chosen out-half.

Controlled

Munster just marshalled that game well, and controlled Edinburgh for the most part. Don't get me wrong, Edinburgh had plenty of fine performances all over the pitch too, so it was no easy task.

Their big No 8 Bill Mata was a particular stand-out. He was very impressive and his carrying was exquisite. Their out-half was good too and their winger Duhan van der Merwe also showed flashes of his brilliance.

But it was an important win in a big quarter-final and with the extra week's break the Munster players should fire in Dublin. The rest and extra training time could prove crucial.

Stephen Archer went off injured and that was a tough blow with Munster short on numbers in the tighthead slot presently, but hopefully the extra week might help here. There should be a few guys, all over the field, coming back from injury.

But it seems like the kind of experimental selection Munster coach Johann van Graan used for their interprovincial draw at home to Ulster worked. It seems like a bit of a masterstroke now, and Munster have benefited from giving players their chance after the disappointment of losing a big Champions Cup semi-final again.

Beating Edinburgh will have instilled plenty of confidence ahead of playing arguably the best team in Europe at the moment - we'll find out whether Leinster are just that this weekend.

And the Champions Cup final has to have an effect on the PRO14 semi-final. Leinster will be solely focused on what goes on this weekend, while their resources will be limited in terms of putting in the required time and effort in their planning for the Munster game. 

The toll it will take for Leinster to be playing in the final mentally and physically cannot be underestimated and this of course definitely helps Munster too. 

Leinster are the team to beat but no matter what happens in Bilbao, I'm sure Munster can put themselves in a position to get the win the following weekend.

Indo Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport