Despite their skill, Munster's tactics remain a cause of confusion
Rugby AnalysisI remember attending Shane Byrne’s 100th Leinster cap celebratory banquet dinner. What then does Ronan O’Gara deserve for 235? It’s an extraordinary achievement and all the more so as he remains so important and intrinsic to their game.
For instance, last week on six minutes and 23 seconds O’Gara dropped the ball from his hands to his right foot in taking a penalty 50m out and two from the left-hand touchline. The score was 0-0 and I wondered what would Munster have done in the past: go down the touchline, no doubt, to squeeze the life out of Cardiff for a try in the corner with a world-class touchline conversion from O’Gara. But as that ball bounced back into his hands off he went, deep into enemy territory.
Not long ago in Paris I was informed by a Munster man there was no new game plan. I nodded and walked away. Edinburgh are a poor version of Scotland – and Scotland are very poor. But last week’s Cardiff were not much better, so I’m confused. The ERC draw from the outset was favourable for Munster, who, I believe, travel this weekend for a certain win.
Unfortunately, the tap penalty above brought a tame knock on into touch, where the opportunity died. Why am I confused? No early lineout try and the giant James Downey didn’t carry in the first half until the 36th minute. Without his crash ball I wonder about his role and the team’s general focus point.
On O’Gara’s kick-offs, Downey’s pre-ordained drift takes him on to the wing. On 41 minutes, after a kick-off ping-pong, Doug Howlett countered from deep down the right-hand touchline. From the recycle, scrumhalf Duncan Williams found O’Gara, and on to the ever-improving Dave Kilcoyne, who pulled a beauty back to Denis Hurley. With Stephen Archer, Dave Foley and Sean Dougall loitering, Hurley hit Keith Earls.
By this stage Downey was back in midfield but strangely surplus to requirements. He was neither found nor looked to provide the power line to punch a Cardiff defence who were able to sleepwalk.
Earls found Donnacha Ryan, who threw forward to James Coughlan, without even looking. These are very good players but all looked like fish out of water, none of them employed in their best position or to maximise their best skill-set. Not until the 54th minute did Downey get his first charge of the second half from a line-out.
Munster’s attack is full of life, ambition and intent, but too often passes land behind the shoulder. Players consequently receive the ball drifting then soak time securing the ball and only then look to straighten or target a weak shoulder. This gives defences untold opportunity to target the ball-carrier. The three-pod system is fine, but what is the value of forwards out wide where – with the exception of Mike Sherry – they are uncomfortable?