Wednesday 21 February 2018

Time to stop the rot and save season

Players must use the hurt to create momentum going back to Pro12

Munster's Francis Saili in action during squad training. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Munster's Francis Saili in action during squad training. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Ian Keatley

David Wallace

Four European defeats in a row would be a disaster - it's not a precedent you want to set. But a week is a long time, and Munster need to learn what they can from last weekend.

When you break down the game, the first half wasn't that bad. The Stade try was quite soft. And maybe 6-3 might have been a fairer reflection. With the red card you would have thought that Munster were in a position to have a big second half albeit 10-0 down at the break.

You hoped that Munster would get their purple patch and go on from there. Unfortunately it was all Stade.

I have played in and against teams who have lost a man. It does have a galvanising effect, unifies them, and they generally up their game.

That certainly happened at Stade Jean Bouin. The French felt that they were in a vulnerable position going into the second half. They would have had a fear factor that Munster could turn them over after that.

So they went out and they controlled the game on the resumption, the Munster defence could only hold Stade out for so long. And that has been an issue all season.

It was very sad to see the team capitulate a little in terms of their morale and defence as the second half wore on. They came back and bagged a consolation try but unfortunately it was way too little way too late.

Munster didn't have the ball in the second half, and when they did, they weren't clinical enough to hold onto it. Over the last few games they have controlled territory and possession even more. They stopped other teams from getting chances.

They weren't able to do that against 14-man Stade, and you have to wonder why. You need to hold onto the ball, and keep possession.

Rory Scannell's disallowed try was a bit of heartbreak for Munster too. It could have had a big psychological effect for them had he not over-run Francis Saili ever so slightly, but those are the margins in this game.

That all comes down to being clinical in attack, and not over-running your players. Saili did his best not to throw it forward, but the chance went unclaimed.


Without making excuses, the injury to BJ Botha was massive. He was a big loss and the scrum was under pressure from there on and that compounded the issue.

Losing Tommy O'Donnell was another big factor; he was fantastic against Ulster and was a big reason for that win, so for him to go off must have hit the team hard. And when you add Andrew Conway to that list it becomes very difficult.

The guys who came in were very good but when you have that much of a turnover of players it has a big psychological impact on the team, and reduces the amount of fresh legs available later in the game.

Now we will see what they are made of as a group. I've been in similar situations where we might have lost a couple of games in a row, and the players need to take ownership. They need to have a meeting amongst themselves and thrash it out, and be honest and be critical of where they are as a group and a squad.

What happened last weekend was not good enough. Munster need to perform much better and find a way to play at a higher level.

Stade are still very much in the competition, and they have a squad that they can rotate anyway. They can put out a strong starting 15 no matter what.

It's going to be difficult. The last couple of years Thomond Park hasn't been the fortress that is had been previously in Europe. They have lost already this year, and they lost last year there.

From Munster's point of view they are out of Europe but they need to get momentum back for going back to the Pro12. You don't want a hangover from this creeping into the Pro12 and suddenly find yourself not in Europe next year. I don't think that's a worry yet but it's certainly something you don't want to happen.

Munster need to appreciate that hurt and never suffer the same fate again. That's the only way you can grow as a team, individuals or players.

The players need to use that hurt to motivate them.

Irish Independent

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