Castres crisis is deeper but Munster must keep discipline

Given the list of treatments prescribed to cure Munster’s ills after defeat at Leinster were all deemed quick fixes, Rassie Erasmus must be confident his players can get the job done at Castres tomorrow (1pm Irish time).
Castres crisis is deeper but Munster must keep discipline

For all Munster’s inevitable talking up of their first Champions Cup Pool 4 opponents since last Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 derby defeat, they will visit Stade Pierre-Antoine to meet hosts with considerably deeper crises after losing five of their first seven Top14 games this season.

Castres’ home victory a fortnight ago over reigning French champions and European heavyweights Clermont Auvergne has been held up as an example of how potent tomorrow’s opponents can be and should not be discounted.

“They do have a massive physical pack, they maul well, they scrum well, they enjoy scrumming and you can see it,” Erasmus said this week. “They sometimes spend two or three minutes at one spot resetting and resetting and then when they get it going they maul really well. Big carrying forwards, big moments at the breakdown.

“I think it is going to be a massive shift for our forwards, containing their forwards and then they’ve got a full-back who’s top of the (Top14) line breaks.

“I don’t think they are a typical Racing or one of those big French teams, I think they mix it up really well with little attacking kicking plays and kicks and stuff so a tough, tough challenge. It doesn’t look like they lose a lot of games down there. They beat Clermont there two weeks ago which is a tough, tough ask.”

Yet Clermont’s title defence has got off to a stuttering start and may continue to affect their campaigns on both fronts, just as Racing 92 suffered in the same situation 12 months ago, as explained by Irish Examiner columnist Ronan O’Gara on these pages yesterday.

More telling from Munster’s point of view is that Castres followed their 29-23 home win over Clermont by crumbling last weekend at Brive, thereby gifting the league’s bottom club their first victory of the season.

Of course, Munster need no reminding that should they repeat last Saturday’s performance in Dublin they will be similarly generous to the home side as they were to Leinster. Ill-discipline and poor defensive decision-making, as well as a sloppy kicking game presented Johnny Sexton with an invitation to initially prise open a gateway to the try line and then keep the scoreboard ticking over to the point where it mattered not that Munster outscored their hosts by three tries to two.

One would not expect those mistakes to reoccur so quickly, nor for Munster to lack the clarity that came with director of rugby Erasmus’s decision to experiment with his backline in Dublin, starting three fly-halves, with Tyler Bleyendaal at inside centre, JJ Hanrahan at full-back and Ian Keatley in the actual number 10 jersey.

Normal service has been resumed for this weekend, the experimentation, considered necessary by Erasmus given the absence through injury of midfielder Jaco Taute and full-back Simon Zebo, is at an end.

Erasmus made no apology for his decision, explaining he had paid the price last season for sticking to a consistent first XV throughout the campaign.

“With all respect to Leinster and the PRO14 when we started last year right through up to game ‘50’ and the semi-finals and finals we picked our best available teams all the time.

"Some people didn’t get game times, some guys weren’t sharp enough, some guys sat on the bench all the time so this year we really went out and just said listen we have got guys coming into the squad, new guys, so we have to get game time into JJ, we’ve lost Dan Goggin and Jaco Taute.

“Would Tyler be able to cover number 12, we know Rory (Scannell) is our first choice number 12 but will Tyler be able to cover? We could have gone to that game and maybe picked our best side but if you go to Europe and there are injuries, are you going to put in Sam Arnold? Can Tyler do it?

“You don’t want to find out in Europe... You have to have those answers going into Europe. On the one side, yes, we have our answers, we can select our team and try and defeat a tough team such as Castres away.”

No trip to France is ever easy. There will always be challenges, especially going there in round one to face a club ready to field its big guns at the start of a pool campaign and before their interest wanes and the Top14 is prioritised once more.

Yet ever since Munster first pitched up in France to play Castres in their first Heineken Cup away match 22 years ago, they have been accumulating the information necessary to get the most out of every subsequent visit.

It might not be as straightforward as last January’s visit to a Racing 92 side already disengaged from the competition after three straight pool defeats, more likely that it will be as tight as their last away game with Castres, at Toulouse in 2011-12 when it needed an O’Gara drop goal to seal the deal at Stade Ernest Wallon.

Munster will take either possibility and every scenario in between if it means they’ve knuckled down, learned their lessons and righted the wrongs of last weekend to get the 2017-18 European season up and running with an invaluable away win.

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