It mightn’t have been a performance to set the pulses racing but Munster still got the new campaign off to a five-try, bonus point start by hammering the hapless Dragons - even without a dozen of their World Cup-tied players on duty in Japan.
While many might have wondered what recently-arrived attack coach Stephen Larkham thought of Munster’s forward-orientated approach, the attitude within the camp was one of cautious optimism.
“I thought it was a clinical performance”, claimed head coach Johann van Graan. “After the first 15 minutes or so, we adjusted and got some ascendancy and control and our kicking game began to put us on the front foot. It’s only round one and we are happy to start off with a bonus point and without any serious injuries. What struck us as coaches is the way we stuck to our processes. I thought our defence went very well and the way we defended our line when down to 14. Yes, there’s a lot of talk about our attack but we didn’t concede a try. That’s what I want to see in our team, that killer instinct.”
Van Graan’s crystal ball was in perfect working order that day last year when he predicted that Shane Daly had the potential to play for Ireland some day.
Those words gained further credence in a man of the match performance by the 22-year-old Cork man.
“Once again I thought he was excellent,” said the head coach. “The exact kick and take try that he worked on at training during the week was nice to see.”
Despite the satisfaction in the Munster camp with Saturday’s performance, there were a number of disappointing aspects to the game and improvement is clearly required over the next two weeks when they take on the Southern Kings and Cheetahs in a mini-tour of the coach’s native South Africa.
“When I was back there during the Irish summer, it was evident to me that South Africa have begun to embrace the Pro 14”, said van Graan. “For both teams, it was very important that they used the Currie Cup to prepare for the Pro 14. Last year, they played the Currie Cup and the Pro 14 together so that the Cheetahs were split into two. Now they are the Currie Cup champions of South Africa and they have also restructured the Kings so we are under no illusion as to what awaits us in the next two weeks.
“There’s massive travel involved for us to get down to Port Elizabeth and the week after to get up to altitude at Bloemfontein. The previous encounters there were very tough but we’ve planned for that. It’s quite a young squad that will go over there with one or two final decisions to make, guys have bumps and bruises after today’s game so this will be a tough tour.”
Munster didn’t really gain control of Saturday’s encounter until fussy Scottish referee Ben Blain harshly yellow carded Dragons hooker Richard Hibbard for a harmless looking no-arms tackle just before half time.
Within a couple of minutes, fired-up Munster had taken full advantage of the extra man as tries by the excellent Jack O’Donoghue and Shane Daly moved Munster from 10-6 to 22-6 ahead and it was never really a contest after that.
Tries - Arno Botha, Jack O’Donoghue, Shane Daly, Tyler Bleyendaal, Diarmuid Barron; Pens - JJ Hanrahan, 2; Cons - 4.
Pens - Sam Davies 3.
M Haley; D Sweetnam, R Scannell, T Bleyendaal, S Daly; JJ Hanrahan, N McCarthy; J Loughman, K O’Byrne, S Archer, F Wycherley, B Holland capt, J O’Donoghue, T O’Donnell, A Botha.
– D Barron, J Cronin, K Knox, D O’Shea, C Cloete, A Mathewson, L Coombes, J O’Sullivan.
J Williams; A Hewitt, A Warren, J Dixon, O Jenkins; S Davies R Williams capt; B Harris, R Hibbard, L Brown, J Davies, M Screech, H Taylor, O Griffiths, L Evans.
– E Shipp, R Bevington, L Fairbrother, M Williams, T Basham, T Knoyle, J Botica, T Morgan.
Ben Blain (Scotland).