Tuesday 25 September 2018

Tigers will have claws out

Munster injuries a cause for concern, but big Euro occasion can bring best out of players

Rory Scannell (left) and Sam Arnold are forced to watch from the sidelines as they sit out Munster training at UL earlier this week DIARMUID GREENE/SPORTSFILE
Rory Scannell (left) and Sam Arnold are forced to watch from the sidelines as they sit out Munster training at UL earlier this week DIARMUID GREENE/SPORTSFILE

David Wallace

Munster had the perfect preparation for the back-to-back Champions Cup games with a bonus-point win over Ospreys last weekend, but now the intensity turns up a notch as Leicester Tigers visit Limerick for another huge European tie.

The manner of the victory in Cork last Saturday will give the team plenty of momentum. Even though Ospreys have been struggling of late, it was a comprehensive win, with a few of the younger guys stepping up to the plate and crossing for tries. 

Chris Cloete has been a really good acquisition, and showed some real rugby smarts to cross for his try. His style of play is very high-octane as well, and possible adds a different style to the current Munster back-row with his low centre of gravity making him very hard to stop in the tight exchanges.

Another player I was really impressed with was Sam Arnold. He took his try so well with a perfect line. He seems to have put on a lot of size this season and is using his power to good effect. He offers plenty, especially as they are down a few key individuals in midfield. 

But Munster have strength in depth all across their back-line now. You have the likes Alex Wootton and Arnold as well, it's great to have them feeding off the more established internationals. 

With the Irish contingent coming back into Munster camp, they bring with them the knowledge and level of detail they have acquired from working closely with Joe Schmidt. 

Then you couple that with the academy system starting to churn out players that are able for this level of rugby and you are in a very strong position. From that point of view, it's also disappointing for Liam O'Connor. The timing of his injury is a really tough one for him and he had got off to such a good start this season. 

Munster normally have a wealth of talent and depth at loosehead, and he was another one mixing it up with Dave Kilcoyne. But James Cronin is out injured and it's possibly up to Brian Scott who will relish his chance. 

He came on and played well against Ospreys, but that is not his favoured position. O'Connor's loss is a big setback ahead of some massive games against Leicester. 

Charge

This is Johann van Graan's first European game, and you would like to have had him in from the start of the campaign, build into it and have pre-season games too. But it is what it is, everyone has known what was coming down the line. 

It is a big challenge for him and the squad, to try and keep the pace and momentum that they had built up. Munster will have to build on that too because they will need to be peaking for these back-to-back games in Europe. 

But it's not a bad thing either, there's very little time to think about the magnitude of the job ahead. Johann just has to get on with it. Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery can cope with the coaching side of it, but there are different dynamics too. 

There are talks of JP Ferreira coming in from South Africa, and then you have the distractions of contract negotiations with Peter O'Mahony going on as well. But those issues will be firmly on the back burner with all eyes on Leicester this weekend.

From the defence coach side of things, it's great to have Andy Farrell available and willing to help out there for the next couple of weeks. Especially with regards to the Ireland internationals, who are so used to playing under his style. 

This is the third year in a row that Munster have pitted their wits against Leicester in the Champions Cup. The teams are coming in joint top of the pool, with Racing 92 just behind both teams. It's all to play for, and it could play out with one win apiece, and then come down to how both teams fare against French opposition on the final day. For Munster, they probably need to take more from the back-to-back games, than Leicester do. 

Going on last year both teams improved. Leicester had a poor run of it last year and have bounced back since then. Munster need to be ready for that. They can't afford to be in any way complacent going into this game. Leicester are a team that understand exactly what Thomond Park is about, and they know how to win there.

Irish Independent

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