Thursday 17 October 2019

Tony Ward: 'Munster lay down a marker but question marks remain over midfield combination'


Chris Farrell
Chris Farrell
Farrell: Consistently good. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

It had its flaws but Saturday's game at the Sportsground was the real deal: a full-blooded, no-holds-barred, old-style interprovincial. Munster deservedly took the spoils but the Connacht graph continues to rise - they are visibly making progress.

In statistical terms Munster and Leinster shared the mini Christmas series, both winning two of their three interpros.

Leinster's amazing strength in depth leaves them in a powerful place, despite the arrogant nonsense in Limerick.

But Munster are surely the psychological winners from the festive period, having beaten the Blues at Thomond.

They are still a long way from the finished article - and a long way short of Leinster when the dual champions are at their best - but they go into the critical final phase of European games in fine fettle.

I said on Saturday, before the Connacht game, that their results on the road this season were no cause for concern. In pretty much every spot, home advantage plays a significant role.

In Galway, Munster did what they had to do - sticking to winning principles.

They had key players in beastly form, in particular Tadhg Beirne and Peter O'Mahony at the breakdown, with Niall Scannell also mighty impressive.

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On that solid base, Joey Carbery added his most complete tactical performance in a Munster shirt.

His try was the icing on the cake - and unleashing him further outfield in the latter stages of a match is a great weapon for Munster coach Johann van Graan and Ireland counterpart Joe Schmidt.

Leaving him on the bench is frustrating not just for Carbery but for the coaching staff too.

And just in case there is any confusion, he is already Munster's best all-round option of the five available to wear No 10.

Andrew Conway again showed that he is a very real alternative to Mike Haley at full-back for his province, and to Rob Kearney for his country.

However, the Munster midfield continues to baffle me. Chris Farrell (first-choice centre in my eyes) and Dan Goggin had their individual moments but as a combination I just don't see it - although I accept it is early days.

The jury is out as to who should play alongside Farrell - whether at No 12 or No 13.

Indeed, the real centre winner at the Sportsground was wearing green and numbered 13. This was a massive statement from the consistently good Tom Farrell. The eagle-eyed Schmidt cannot but have been impressed.

Tom Daly did well too and is a smart signing, but given the nature of the occasion and opposition, Farrell and Connacht missed Bundee Aki badly.

And while Carbery added to his growing experience as chief orchestrator in red, his opposite number was equally good.

No more than the Athy man is Jack Carty the complete No 10.

But as a work in progress, alongside the again equally impressive Caolin Blade, I like what I am seeing.

Both out-halves had their loose moments, such as Carty's two wayward kicks early on, but no longer does the Athlone man let his head drop.

That is part of the learning process and at No 10, unlike positions further out, you don't have time to think about what went just before.

Munster had a plan to probe deep, pressure-chase and turn Connacht around.

In Carbery they had the means to apply the preordained method.

It's one swallow so we'll not lose the run of ourselves just yet, but under pressure, Munster have taken a big step in the right direction.

Irish Independent

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