Sport Rugby

Sunday 17 December 2017

Neil Francis: Leinster's midfield generals could well be the Ireland centre partnership facing the All Blacks in Chicago

Garry Ringrose of Leinster is tackled by Ian Keatley of Munster at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Garry Ringrose of Leinster is tackled by Ian Keatley of Munster at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Jaco Taute scores Munster's second try despite the best efforts of Leinster's Joey Carbery. Photo:Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Munster's CJ Stander is tackled by Leinster's Devin Toner. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Leinster's Robbie Henshaw during the Guinness PRO12 Round 6 match against Munster at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

Hostilities resumed and an undercooked Munster side were outclassed but, importantly, were not overwhelmed. They couldn't look after the ball in contact and their vaunted back-row couldn't get any traction in this match. Their tight five did well at scrummage time which kept them in the game because you sensed that when they turned the screw in this phase, Leinster's walls would come tumbling down.

Conor Murray had an understated game while Tyler Bleyendaal showed touches of class but is a long way from showing the sort of authority needed at this level, and at European level, to control a game and get his side going forward.

Truthfully, Munster's skill-set and their passing game just aren't good enough at this stage. While they kept the ball and edged Leinster in time in possession, they were going nowhere and some of their outfield backs aren't up to this standard.

Both sides could point to missed opportunities at the try-line which may or may not have either brought them further ahead or back into the game. Leinster won this sector by four to two and while they will be happy with the victory, did thoughts of a try bonus point elude them? Munster, as is their wont, were still trying to get some sort of reward as they chased a losing bonus point late in the game.

The difference between the two sides was obvious - Leinster's 10, 12 and 13 were vastly superior. On a dry day the difference in the skill-sets was dramatically reinforced. Garry Ringrose lit up the back field with some beautiful moments and on several occasions his hands and his mind blew Munster away despite pressure being applied.

In the 60th minute, a sublime step out of the tackle, a slip inside and an offload outside gave substance to the notion that he will play for Ireland this season and not just in the Canada game. On the debit side his inability to take advantage of a Johnny Sexton grubber made you ponder - but not for that long.

Line speed was at a premium in this match and all day long Sexton was conscious of where the gaps were and how to manage to thread some beautifully-weighted chips through.

His one in the 28th minute was a beauty; Ringrose was live to it and as the pace in the ball slowed and the smaller hops become more unpredictable, Ringrose had a bounce to judge.

The most effective way, even with the ball two metres from the line, is to dive and catch the ball and let your momentum take you over the line. The danger with stooping to catch the ball on a low bounce is that you will take your eyes off it.

That is what Ringrose did and he may rue the mistake, but already in his career we expect far better from him.

Great players never miss opportunities like that, but he more than made up for his blunder and caused havoc whenever he got a sniff of some space.

His partner Robbie Henshaw had a very effective game for someone shy of match practice. The more the game went on the more influential he became. Defensively he was everything we expected him to be.

While Ulster have expectations about filling Ireland's out-field positions, if Henshaw and Ringrose continue to play as well as they did here, they will be starting together in Soldier Field next month.

Sexton's passing is sublime. You can always field a ball that is passed to you at pace provided that the quality of the pass ensures that it goes directly to where it should be going. Three or four times during the game the quality of the pass was too much for Munster and Nacewa was the beneficiary out on the wide outside. Nacewa too is still such an important ingredient in Leinster's make-up and his tackling at this early stage of the season is direct, aggressive and decisive.

Leinster, if they have their minds together, will cut Castres to pieces. Munster will have to re-group to meet their old maestro whose Racing side just about overcame Stade Francais at the death.

Two under-performing sides with work to do - Munster will be burning more of the midnight oil to even pose a challenge for next week.

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