Munster are fully committed to pursuit of width
RUGBY ANALYST:It will be interesting to see how Munster’s new style will suit Paul O’Connell in Paris
SITTING HIGH in the Aviva stand last Saturday I was once again sucked into the available space on the pitch, or lack thereof. With but three minutes and 40 seconds on the clock Leinster had an attacking scrum in the Munster corner. When Eoin Reddan put the ball in an almighty shove came from the Munster scrum forcing a skilled pop between the legs from number eight Jamie Heaslip. As the ball exited there was no space available; Munster on their try line were primed for an offensive defence.
Just as Reddan reclaimed the ball from Heaslip, Jonathan Sexton slid outfield behind his inside centre Fergus McFadden on a pivot run. For most, especially the on-rushing defence, the expectation was McFadden to decoy with Sexton to receive, unleashing the outside backs; but McFadden received. However, Reddan followed his own pass to McFadden presumably to take the ball back.
The first wave of Munster defence, Conor Murray and Seán Dougall with Peter O’Mahony not far behind, arrived hungry for contact on McFadden expecting Reddan to loop open. They were focused on McFadden but ready for a flier wide. Time is at a premium here and either way there’s nothing but dead space in tight with all the Munster troops behind.
Why dead space? With so much traffic this close to the line the move is all about the loop, fixing defenders as Reddan receives before finding Sexton and width. But along comes Leinster’s blindside winger, Andrew Conway, from behind the scrum into the tiniest of gaps. In the briefest of moments the try line beckoned as his aggressive diagonal run behind Dougall fixed on McFadden and skidding away from O’Mahony who was unlikely to find him in the spare feet available.
Why no score? Conway’s captain Heaslip got in the way forcing him to check ever so slightly sending him into the bear that is Donncha O’Callaghan; move over, opportunity lost! Up popped Shane Jennings, who had a mighty match, antagonising one minute and carrying the next. From that ruck Reddan found the excellent Richardt Strauss who slipped over.
I labour the point because the three attacks were contained within the five metres and the posts. Leinster have over the weeks prioritised the space that doesn’t exist, especially where defences are traditionally stronger. To contrast this Munster are looking for space that is much wider than traditionally sought. Munster’s number two and eight spend much time on the left wing with the number three and others on the right. O’Gara has been taking the ball much wider with massive distance to his next receiver, skipping wide of defenders into his primed carriers, with both Mike Sherry and O’Mahony adding real value to the ball.
How will this suit Paul O’Connell in Paris as Racing Metro are not playing well, but are huge up front? Impressively Munster stuck to their guns until the end last week and resisted drifting back to days of yore. That said a traditional drop goal would have claimed a bonus point but they ignored it. This tells me Munster are totally committed to this new style. Again how will first-start O’Connell fit in?