As Racing 92 flanker Yannick Nyanga was praising new pack-mate Donnacha Ryan on Sunday night he reflected on the inside knowledge the Irish lock had passed on to the squad abut Munster’s threats.
Racing had defeated Ryan’s old province 34-30 and Nyanga said the former Munsterman had known “exactly the way they think”.
“You know that Munster have the same game-plan for a long time, but the execution is perfect,” he added, yet there has for some time been evidence that that is no longer the case.
Munster are showing there is much more to their gameplan than has previously been seen and on Sunday at the U Arena, the try-scoring chances they created point to an exciting, more expansive brand of rugby under attack coach Felix Jones and the licence being given since a chastening PRO12 final defeat by Scarlets last May.
“We need some more strings to our bow,” now departed director of rugby Rassie Erasmus had said in the wake of that Aviva Stadium trouncing by an exciting and expansive Welsh side.
"Now new head coach Johann van Graan has picked up the baton and seems intent on progressing that directive for unleashing Munster’s attacking potential.
“When I accepted the job, that was one of the things that I targeted,” van Graan said in Paris on Sunday night, after their narrow Champions Cup defeat to Racing.
“You know, the European knockouts but also the two-week tour to South Africa and getting to April and May. From what I saw of Munster last year, they got so close in that semi-final against Saracens and then the Scarlets played very well in that final, but you need an all-round game.
“So we’re working very hard as a squad on our attack, on our passing ability. I thought the breakdown was very good, although it can still improve — again, Racing have so many stealers.
“But it’s a long season and the only thing that matters now is that we’ve got to recover and we’re back at Thomond Park and a win is enough to get us through to a quarter-final.”
The appearance of backs in the Munster lineout and Conor Murray demanding the ball to take long-range shots at goal from either side of the halfway line are pointers to a fresh approach in addition to the wider game being displayed by an all-Irish capped backline.
The number of missed opportunities with the boot and with ball in hand at the U Arena suggest it is still a work in progress but van Graan is pleased that they are being created and Munster are becoming less predictable.
“Definitely. It’s unusual in a game for two kicks to hit the goalposts (one from Ian Keatley, another from Murray) and then Conor went for his long-range penalties, it’s something we want to bring into our game, somebody that can convert those 50-metre kicks and he kicked the final one.
“But look, a goalkicker is always under pressure, its a whole team thing. Probably in the far corner where we had an opportunity to get the four tries.
“The positive out of it is we are creating multiple opportunities. It’s not a drive, box, win the aerial game — we’ve still got that as part of our armoury but we want to move forward and score more tries as well.”
Though “drive, box, contest” will remain part of the Munster DNA, van Graan is excited by what is still to come from his in-form backline. How much is left in them?
“A lot,” he said confidently. “It’s some of the things that people don’t see. After five minutes, you sit there and everybody is so disappointed, they gave it their all out there, and I was actually sitting there with the backs and they know they probably left one or two chances out there, but they’re also excited about what we created against a pretty world-class back line.
“So there’s a lot of potential. Every week it’s about decision-making and finishing every chance and we’re still waiting for that perfect game. It still needs to improve for next week.”
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