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Munster to suffer more pain before the gain

JUST a couple of weeks into the new season, it's a little early to be forming definitive opinions, but there are sure signs of a change in attacking strategy for the two provinces under new coaching regimes.

At Ravenhill on Friday, we were treated to an old-style inter-provincial belter as Ulster and Munster went for it hammer and tongs. It was competitive rugby from a bygone age with a modern New Zealand-inspired attacking twist.

Just like the All-Ireland hurling final last Sunday week, the clash at Ravenhill on Friday was an encounter to leave you breathless.

I spoke with a friend of mine close to the Munster camp after coach Rob Penney (right) had completed his initial interview, and he was certain that the Munster selection committee had chosen well.


Only time will tell but despite coming second to Mark Anscombe's Ulster on Friday, the early signs are good. Penney and Simon Mannix are sticking to their early promise of "allowing players to express themselves without removing the tradition that has served Munster so well for so long".

It is a difficult balancing act -- and might entail losing more often than supporters would like -- but even the most uninformed eye can seen the need for a wider attacking strategy beyond the fringe of ruck and maul, as well as a much more varied and intelligent kicking game embracing chip and grubber.

I have been critical of the over-reliance on New Zealand coaching expertise in the past, but I think both Penney and Anscombe are already adding to the standard of excellence instituted so successfully by Joe Schmidt and Jono Gibbes at Leinster.

Ulster and Munster are trying to harness what the All Blacks are doing, and what Schmidt and Gibbes have developed at Leinster.

It is a system being developed around players, and not vice versa. It will not click into place overnight and I would urge patience from supporters. Whereas Schmidt inherited an attacking force waiting to be unleashed, both Penney and Anscombe must look to implement the type of attacking strategy which is now being used by the elite of the global game.

I'm not counting my chickens, but it seems as though attacking strategists might finally start to get ahead of the 'ten-a-penny' defensive gurus proliferating the game.

There are definite signs of green attacking shoots taking shape in this regard and I believe that if the coaching will and playing belief exist, then anything is possible.

Of course, so much comes down to the material with which any coach must work. Both Ulster and Munster are works in progress with the real heavy hitters still to return.

On the positive side, Casey Laulala, Keith Earls and James Downey offer fresh optimism for Munster in midfield. What Downey offers isn't pretty but it is effective, and essential in Munster's clearly widening ambition. Denis Hurley may not be the quickest full-back in the world but he is an excellent footballer and reader of the game.

His dad Jerry (a more than handy hooker for Munster in his time) suggested to me that he might do a very effective job at inside-centre in the Trevor Halstead/Downey bash-mode. It is something worth considering should anything untoward happen to Downey.

Beyond that, Donncha O'Callaghan showed a refreshing appetite as leader to a still evolving pack, while out-half Ian Keatley was again central to his team's momentum.

For Ulster, Jared Payne and Paddy Jackson were the most effective attackers, while newly-arrived Nick Williams brings the ball-carrying power he once produced so effectively for Munster.

Irish Independent