Munster’s quick fixes
Asked last week to reflect on last season’s shortcomings in his side’s biggest games, the knockout defeats to Saracens and Scarlets, Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus said: “If you don’t implement the things you learned, it was only a beating, it wasn’t a lesson learned.”
The weekend’s PRO14 derby loss to Leinster will have given Erasmus an opportunity to address some fresh lessons after another painful defeat at the Aviva Stadium.
There is no time to dwell on these ones though for Munster need some quick fixes this week if they are to travel to southern France with any hope of turning over Champions Cup Pool 4 rivals Castres on Sunday.
This is the obvious work-on from last Saturday’s 23-17 loss as Munster’s lack of accuracy at the breakdown allowed Johnny Sexton to kick his team deep into their 22 to provide the platform for Leinster’s opening try and then to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
“We’ve got to go to France for a win and we’ve got to give ourselves a chance to win a game and certainly discipline is a starting point,” captain Peter O’Mahony said. “So there’s a glaring aspect there that we’ve got to sort quickly.” “That’s something that’s easily fixed, that’s the good thing about it.”
There was also a first-half yellow card for Niall Scannell for a deliberate offside but if Munster clean their act up, Erasmus is confident the rest will fall into place.
“If you fix that you’ll know what to fix outside that,” the South African said.”
Munster’s Achilles heel?
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen made no apology for focusing on Munster No.8 and chief ball carrier CJ Stander in Dublin last Saturday. He worked out that if his players were quick out of the blocks and swarmed all over the big back-rower it would stop Munster’s impetus in its tracks. The plan worked admirably.
“He’s definitely someone we targeted because he’s such a key individual for them,” Cullen said. “I thought the guys showed pretty good line-speed. A couple of times Stander got a bit of momentum but, over the course of the game, that was a pleasing aspect.”
As much as Stander is their go-to man, Munster need to get their other carriers into the game and offer some variety if they are to get that valuable go-forward ball.
Erasmus needs frontliners back
Munster’s second-row injury crisis bit them hard in Dublin as they missed the power and gnarl Jean Kleyn provides. Losing new signing Gerbrandt Grobler to a long-term ankle injury was tough to take on top of fellow casualties Darren O’Shea and Dave O’Callaghan. The absence of Kleyn, whose tries also gave Munster such an early-season boost, proved a bridge too far. With Castres led by abrasive old stager Rodrigo Capo Ortega, now 37, Erasmus will be praying Kleyn gets over the neck “bump” he suffered against Glasgow a fortnight ago.
If the impact Keith Earls made on the wing against Leinster on his return from injury is any guide, Munster could well do with a similar stimulus from Simon Zebo, who missed the last two games with an infected cut on his knee.
Settle on a backline
Post-match on Saturday, Erasmus admitted the time for experimenting was over and heading to France he needed to settle on who plays where from 10 to 15. Deploying three fly-halves against Leinster was to be applauded but without much ball was a missed opportunity and Munster’s best score, if not the try of the game came after both Ian Keatley and Tyler Bleyendaal, who started at inside centre had been withdrawn and JJ Hanrahan switched from full-back to number 10, with Rory Scannell at 12.
With Bleyendaal yet to hit his straps this season, starting Hanrahan this Sunday would be a first opportunity to see him in his proper position from the first minute. Restoring Rory Scannell on the fly-half’s outside shoulder maintains a play-making sensibility at inside centre while the expected addition of Zebo to the back three alongside Earls and Andrew Conway gives Munster a more balanced backline to unlock Castres with their new-look attacking gameplan.
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