Monday 25 March 2019

Tests will get tougher but plenty of stars to be slotted in as jigsaw comes together

Joey Carbery celebrates scoring his side’s second try last weekend with Darren Sweetnam and Dan Goggin. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Joey Carbery celebrates scoring his side’s second try last weekend with Darren Sweetnam and Dan Goggin. Photo: SPORTSFILE

David Wallace

Munster needed a big response following their loss in Glasgow, and what a retort that was against conference rivals Ospreys last weekend. Now they need to deliver the same sort of aggressive display on the road at the Arms Park.

Where they were caught cold at Scotstoun, they were on song at Irish Independent Park. The set-piece work was accurate, their breakdown was totally dominant, while they mauled Ospreys within an inch of their life. They spotted that weakness and kept going back to it with ruthless efficiency.

Any Munster fan leaving the ground afterwards must have carried a real buzz home with them. Their team was in form, new signings have settled and Johann van Graan's side are playing a well-balanced game that their backs and forwards enjoy.

When you consider that that team featured 11 changes from the side that played the week before it was all the more impressive. Ospreys had made one more alteration than that, but instead of selecting a weaker side, Munster are certainly working their front-line players into the team.


There were some brilliant displays from the likes of Chris Cloete - he was rightly named man of the match - Tadhg Beirne, James Cronin, Rhys Marshall, Andrew Conway, Duncan Williams and Peter O'Mahony, all of whom were making their first starts of the season, while Joey Carbery was also on song in his maiden start.

Carbery really put his stamp on the game from the start. Against Glasgow, Munster were on the hind foot until Carbery came on and the signs are there that he's making a big difference. He's a massive attacking threat, he has the skills to distribute the ball, but he's also able to control the game.

In the last few seasons there has been a feeling that Munster were a player or two away from being a top, top team, and the initial signs are that Carbery could well be one of those key pieces. Conor Murray is still to come back alongside him, so too has CJ Stander, Chris Farrell and Keith Earls, and slowly but surely the jigsaw is revealing itself.

It was clear to see that the players were hurt by the result the previous week, so to go out and have the bonus-point try scored by half-time was a real achievement.

While Carbery was outstanding, the pack did an excellent job throughout and supplied himself and Williams with a plentiful supply of clean, quick ball. I was happy to see the intent was there from early on too as Munster turned down their first kickable penalty and went to the corner, but by that stage they had already found the weak point in the Ospreys and they opted to maul again and again.

Two yellow cards, a penalty try and two more for Rhys Marshall was a great return from that weapon and they left Ospreys demoralised.

But let's be clear: this was an understrength side they faced. Ospreys had two wins already and Allen Clarke opted to rest his stars and look to next week. It's not what paying supporters want, but they were there to see a Munster win.

One thing for sure, in the coming weeks it won't be as easy again, and the pack cannot guarantee their half-backs another comfortable armchair ride.

Tonight against Cardiff they will be pushed hard and with Ulster and Leinster to come in the following weeks, the tests will only get sterner ahead of Europe. But that will be a great test of Carbery. It looked easy for him at the weekend, but as the plentiful supply of clean ball dries up slightly - not too dry hopefully! - he'll need to show he can use his top six inches too.

Another new man, Tadhg Beirne, has settled in right away too and looks like a huge asset. He's almost like a back-row/second-row hybrid: a guy who can do all the ugly work and the basics, but is also able to stitch an attack together, make line-breaks or poach the ball.

I've often faced a lock playing in the back-row and you would lick your lips, but it's a different case against this guy; he doesn't miss a beat.

To date it looks as if Munster have played him perfectly; they cannot restrain him or clip his wings; they need to nurture his talents. It would be a shame to see him change style and not to play to his strengths because he's in a different team.


Amazingly, tonight will be the third week in a row for Munster to play on an artificial surface and their fifth in six games, so the Arms Park obviously won't disrupt them this weekend.

I've seen very little of Cardiff this season but they were so unlucky against Leinster and they then fell a bit short against Benetton the following week too.

Last weekend was a demoralising defeat, but I'm sure John Mulvihill is still trying to put his imprint on the team. They have shown glimpses of form and I reckon Munster will be tested here.

Nick Williams is always a big threat, but I'd be confident that the options Munster have in the back-row should be able for him. Stander, O'Mahony, Cloete, O'Donnell, Dave O'Callaghan and Botha are all vying for three shirts, while Conor Oliver and Jack O'Donoghue will soon be back in there too.

And I thought it was tough when Alan Gaffney was coach and he had to pick four from myself, Axel, Quinny, Jim Williams and Denis Leamy.

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