Monday 18 December 2017

Still big concerns over Reds' game plan

Victory over Gloucester leaves more questions than answers

Denis Leamy

It is hard to know how to assess the win over Gloucester. I suppose the first emotion for all was relief. It was absolutely vital that the victory was achieved to keep it all alive and there is everything now to play for in the back-to-back games against Perpignan in December.

Yet, it was not a vintage Munster performance. I suppose you could say it was flat. They did enough to win and can now refocus on the back of it, but it is hard to find an answer to those who are asking the question about where Munster are at the moment. They just didn't look like a team who were fighting for their lives the last night and you could sense the frustration of the crowd.

And you would have to ask if the style of play suits Munster.


I remember about 10 years ago Edinburgh used to play a similar style, going for width. You would be absolutely wrecked by the end of the match playing against them but you nearly always won.

Often when a team is strung out across the pitch like that it can be easy to defend against them.

However, Johne Murphy's try was superbly worked. I was very impressed by Keith Earls, and Damien Varley also had a great match – he carried well and was top-notch in every other way.

You couldn't help feeling, when looking at Peter O'Mahony, that they would probably have won in Edinburgh if he had been playing.

They are back in Scotland this evening and won't get anything easy against a Glasgow side who have been consistently good for the past three seasons. They have won five from five this season and top the table and always seem to raise their game when they are playing Munster. It was one of the places I never fancied going. There was always a battle.

It probably won't be any different this evening and it will be interesting to see how this top-of-the-table clash goes. It is an opportunity for Munster to push on from last weekend.

Three of the four Rabo games before the Heineken Cup resumes are away from home and Munster need to go into the Perpignan double-header with a bit of momentum.

It is a huge advantage that Munster will be at home for the first game with them – that is a match they just have to win. Perpignan will be coming to Thomond Park as pool leaders, having come from behind and picked up a bonus point against Edinburgh last weekend.

It has been an interesting start to the Heineken Cup and hard to believe that just three teams have won both of their opening matches.

But that's the beauty of the competition – a bonus point picked up here or there can make all the difference come January.

The fact that Ulster and Leinster are two of the sides to win both their games – Toulouse are the other, suggesting they are on the way back – is a statement in itself.

Ulster's win in Montpellier is the standout result of the opening two rounds. Montpellier are joint-top of the French league, yet Ulster blew them away. That is some statement by Ulster. They are clearly a side going places.

Leinster got it harder than expected against Castres but they had laid out their stall the previous week away to Ospreys.

I don't know what to make of Ospreys. They win the Celtic League every so often and have contributed more players than any club to all the Welsh successes over the past few years. Yet they just don't seem to be capable of making any impression in the Heineken Cup. They just don't seem to be able to go that extra yard that's needed to win Heineken Cup matches.


You could say the same about Harlequins. It's amazing how much they have fallen.

But I think you can trace their decline back to the Heineken Cup quarter-final loss at home to Munster last season. That loss did huge damage to them and it has been downhill for them ever since. They lost their opening game at home to Scarlets and were lucky to get a bonus point at Clermont on Sunday, but that's unlikely to save them.

Toulouse's win away to Saracens sets them up nicely and you'd also have to question Sarries' ability to turn the level of talent they have on board into serious European contenders.

Munster are in there in the hunt but you suspect a step-up in performance will be needed in December.

Irish Independent

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