Buzz is back but Munster must address shortcomings in attack

On a monumental, if ultimately disappointing, weekend for Irish rugby, one hopes valuable lessons will be learned by all concerned, including those responsible for running the club game in this country.
Buzz is back but Munster must address shortcomings in attack

Despite the result, the Munster buzz is back.

There is nothing quite like the buzz and adrenaline rush created when Munster are back competing for silverware at the business end of the season.

Even before the frustrating traffic backlog when the Cork road converged with our Limerick brethren for the endless logjam at the Portlaoise road toll, you sensed something special was happening.

The vast majority of the cars we passed after navigating the Jack Lynch tunnel were packed with families decked in red, all heading to the same destination.

Memories of similar journeys to the capital to follow Cork in an All-Ireland hurling or football final came flooding back, even more so when the journey took over four hours to negotiate. We could certainly have done without that.

To observe the facial expressions of the travelling support on occasions such as this is special.

You could see the bemusement as they negotiated their way through Ballsbridge and down Lansdowne Road. Dublin 4 was a sea of red.

It was always going to be difficult to suppress this Saracens side on the field of play but Munster gave it their best shot.

The supporters played their part but also had the rugby savvy and good grace to recognise when you are beaten by a better team.

That is why the response from the gracious Munster following on the final whistle once again hit the right note when staying to the end, unleashing a heartfelt rendition of the Fields of Athenry before standing to applaud, not only their own gallant troops, but also the opposition.

It invoked memories of a similar scene after Munster’s narrow defeat in the 2000 Heineken Cup final against Northampton.

That inspirational response made a lasting impression on that vanquished Munster squad and inspired them to come back stronger.

If it has a similar impact on the current crop, then Munster are surely heading in the right direction.

Munster must address shortcomings in attack

The best news to emerge from the Aviva Stadium in the aftermath of this defeat was the belated confirmation Rassie Erasmus will be with Munster for at least another season.

That is exactly what everyone needed to hear as the former Springbok has done an outstanding job, in the most difficult of circumstances, in his maiden season in charge.

Making the last four in Europe was on nobody’s radar at the start of the season and going down to the best side in the tournament, at the penultimate stage, was no disgrace.

To progress further, Erasmus will appreciate more than most he needs to find more variety in attack to unlock defences as tight and uncompromising at Saracens produced last Saturday.

Francis Saili offers glimpses of that at times and that is why I would extend his contract even if he needs to be more consistent.

Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and Darren Sweetnam have enjoyed outstanding seasons but Munster need to find a way to offer them more opportunities in space to work their magic.

Hopefully the returning JJ Hanrahan will add to the mix while Tyler Blayendaal needs to put the disappointment of last Saturday behind him and back himself more.

A starting point might come from analysing the use of dummy runners, screen passes and deft grubber kicks employed by Saracens.

Brad Barritt and Marcelo Bosch are quality players but no world beaters yet they constantly create opportunities for other, more talented runners, in the Saracens back three. Munster could learn from that.

As for the quality of this Saracens outfit, some of the Munster players I spoke to afterwards thought they were a better and more cohesive outfit than the England side Ireland beat at the same venue.

Given England were chasing a world record 19 test wins in a row, that best summarised the challenge Munster faced.

Leinster in touching distance of the glory days

Leinster are a bit further down the road than Munster in terms of recapturing the glory days in Europe.

Had they not handed a potentially brittle Clermont Auvergne side a 15-point lead in as many minutes at the outset, then they would be back in a Champions Cup final.

If Munster struggled in the absence of a key performer in Lions scrum-half Conor Murray, Leinster were forced to negotiate a European semi-final, on French soil, against local opposition, shorn four Lions in Rob Kearney, Jamie Heaslip, Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien. Yet they came close to pulling off a memorable win.

Leo Cullen needs to figure out why they started so poorly and why their line out malfunctioned so badly in the opening quarter.

While the penalty indiscretion by Dan Leavy cost the team heavily when his try was disallowed for holding Aurelian Rougerie off the ball, Leinster must also question their indiscipline when giving away cheap penalties at vital times after working their way back into the contest.

I have no doubt Sunday’s game and occasion will ultimately prove an invaluable learning experience for this evolving young squad.

When you consider Luke McGrath, Robbie Henshaw, Gary Ringrose, Joey Carbery, Jack Conan, Josh van der Flier, Tadhg Furlong and Leavy are all under 25, you have to think they will adorn this stage in the near future and return better and wiser.

Club rugby deserving of more respect from the IRFU

Less than 24 hours after and within a stones throw of Munster’s Champions Cup semi final, Lansdowne entertained Cork Constitution at the same stage of the premier competition for clubs in this country.

At the same time the second of those deciders between Clontarf and Young Munster was taking place a few miles away at Castle Avenue.

The fact these club showpieces were taking place at the same time as Leinster’s televised Champions Cup clash in Lyon was extremely unfortunate and took away, not only from the occasion, but also from the respective attendances.

Lansdowne are an outstanding club, one of the oldest in the country and have long boasted a special connection with Munster. No surprise therefore when the Constitution team and supporters were made feel so welcome and treated so hospitality.

Only problem is while Lansdowne boast a magnificent new clubhouse, built on the back of the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road, the 3G pitch attaching and its surrounds is about as close to a prison recreation ground as you will find.

Decent viewing points for supporters are few and far between while the quality of the surface leaves a lot to be desired, if not downright dangerous. Several players from both sides suffered burns and abrasions with the added danger of picking up an infection.

I am all in favour of the system where the top two teams at the end of the Ulster Bank League phase are afforded the opportunity to host the semi-finals and with it a chance to generate some badly needed revenue. That 3G pitch however is just not fit for purpose.

Likewise the fact that Young Munster were put at a severe disadvantage by having four players unavailable because of the fixture clash with Friday night’s B&I Cup final was also far from ideal. They weren’t the only ones affected.

The IRFU has been paying lip service to the club game in this country for too long now. Someday that will come back to bite, if it hasn’t already, with Munster the most likely to be effected.

Last Saturday there were only two Limerick men in Munster’s 23-man match day squad. Think about that for a second.

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