Saturday 20 January 2018

Plenty of work to do and not that long to do it – Peter O'Mahony

Captain seeks improvement ahead of Leinster clash as Penney's rotation policy delivers average display

Concentration is the name of the game for Paul O'Connell as he tries to gather the ball at Musgrave Park
Concentration is the name of the game for Paul O'Connell as he tries to gather the ball at Musgrave Park
Munster head coach Rob Penney
Conor George

Conor George

THERE was nothing pretty about Munster's win or, indeed, their performance, against Dragons in Cork's Musgrave Park.

Munster 23 Dragons 9

The rugby they played for large portions served only to highlight their shortcomings and for 50 minutes, a very limited Dragons were within a score of Munster – on their turf.

That should be enormously concerning a week before they play Leinster in Thomond Park and a fortnight before they begin a new European campaign. Mercifully, they have a soft assignment in Murrayfield as their first Heineken Cup outing of the season.

SOLACE

That will provide no solace this week as they prepare for Leinster. The defending Celtic League champions have been a mixed bag at times in their opening games, but they played some irresistible stuff on Friday night and could cause havoc next weekend in Limerick.

It must be a source of some comfort to Rob Penney that he will be able to recall most of his proven first-team players. He has spent the last four weekends rotating his squad and giving players opportunities to impress. That is now a luxury he can no longer afford.

"I don't think the team we select next weekend will have any shocks for the majority of people," he said afterwards. "It's been about creating depth in our squad, because we're going to need to go to the well and the well had better be deep.

"It is important for guys to get game time with the internationals coming up. We have 11 or 12 in the squad, so if they all go, it's important that we have players capable of replacing them.

"If we want to be successful in the competitions we're involved in we need to have depth of players."

There remains the suggestion that the depth to which Penney refers simply isn't there, especially in the aftermath of losing so many marquee players to retirement and injury over the last number of seasons.

It is also noticeable that Munster are not recruiting as successfully or ambitiously as they once were.

The capture of South Africa's captain, Jean de Villiers (2009) was an experiment that did not work satisfactorily for him or for Munster and Doug Howlett was the only truly top-tier player they lured to Ireland who enjoyed major success.

That was back in 2007/08. The need to keep his front-line players fresh is also likely to be a strong reason behind Penney's rotation policy in the opening four games of the season.

He challenged interviewers to indicate which "portion of the season isn't crucial," but it's fair to suggest these next three weekends will provide a barometer for the true state of their health.

For that reason it is welcome news that Conor Murray is likely to be back. Penney declined to be drawn on an exact date for Murray's return – "hopefully, he'll come right in a short period of time. I can't put a time on it" – but it is anticipated he will be back for the Leinster encounter.

It is also probable Donnacha Ryan, James Coughlan, Casey Laulala and James Downey will all return, while Paul O'Connell is likely to start having come off the bench for the last half hour to give a more substantial look to the team on Saturday.

POSITIVES

Munster will have to maximise the positives from Saturday's win. Not least among these, according to captain Peter O'Mahony, is actually winning the match after last weekend's loss to Treviso in Italy.

"We've plenty of work to do and not that long to do it," said O'Mahony. "Some of the rugby we played was good and some of it was average.

"We'll have a look at it during the week, take out the positives and keep moving on. Next weekend is a big challenge. It's a great way to lead into the Heineken Cup double. Everyone is looking forward to it."

The determination shown by both O'Mahony and Munster's other try scorer James Cronin in driving for the line for their touch-downs were highlights on the night.

Cronin crossed from close range in the first half with O'Mahony stretching his frame over in the 51st minute when Dragons were down to 13 men after captain Andrew Coombs and flanker Jevon Groves were both sin-binned for separate infringements.

O'Mahony's try, which was converted by JJ Hanrahan, stretched their lead to 11 points (20-9) to put the result beyond doubt. That Munster were not able to further exploit their significant numerical advantage – although Coombs was returned to the fray two minutes early – is a mark against them and they will need to be more ruthless against Leinster next weekend.

Penney's troops will also need to be more precise in what they do. Too often poor handling let them down against Dragons as the ball was spilled to the ground at crucial moments.

They will also need a far better return from their wide men when the ball does reach them. The win has Munster in third place in the league table with four games played, but the quality of the opposition has not been of the highest standard.

On Saturday night they'll get a true indication of how prepared they are for the tests that lie ahead.

MUNSTER – J Murphy (F Jones 61); A Conway, K Earls, I Dineen, S Zebo; JJ Hanrahan (I Keatley 62), C Sheridan (D Williams 70); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 58), D Varley (M Sherry 66), J Ryan (S Archer 58); D O'Callaghan, D Foley (P O'Connell 51); P O'Mahony, S Dougall, P Butler (CJ Stander 68).

DRAGONS – D Evans; M Pewtner, R Wardle, J Dixon, T Prydie (A Hughes 64); K Burton (J Tovey 69), J Evans (R Rees 57); P Price (O Evans 50), H Gustafson (S Parry 58), F Chaparro (D Way 50), A Coombs, M Screech (R Sidoli 64), J Groves (I Jones 57), L Evans, N Talei.

Ref – N Paterson (SRU).

Irish Independent

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