Munster need to be dynamic to expose Toulouse behemoths
Home side can use dominant scrum to move opponents around
Toulouse secondrow Joe Tekori can prove a handful for Munster defenders on Saturday. Photograph: Pascal Pavani/AFP.
Any team that can put 28 points on Toulon in the Stade Vélodrome is worthy of respect. But then this is Toulouse we’re talking about, who’ve rarely won on the road in the Top 14. This is not aided by the doubt over Yannick Nyanga, Louis Picamoles and Luke McAlister. But it’s the frontrow that I’m focussing on. Is the behemoth tighthead Census Johnston really a loss for Toulouse as has been suggested?
With the many battles on display last Saturday in the Aviva I was drawn to one in particular; the frontrows. Yes Leinster were devoid of choice in lining up with Michael Bent, Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross, especially with the lack of real cavalry on the bench. For most, Bent was the weak link but it was fascinating how Munster approached him and consequently how they dismantled Leinster’s scrum. Ross is clearly the strength in the Leinster frontrow with Bent the opposite.
Utilising this knowledge Munster were very clever. On “crouch, bind and set”, Munster’s tighthead BJ Botha put himself in a unique position. The telling part was his right arm placement on Bent’s body.
If Botha’s intention was to pummel Bent into oblivion he would have locked down his right arm over Bent setting himself (head/shoulders/hips & height) into a powerful position that would have starved Bent of oxygen, power and the ability to cope. Instead Botha released Bent from the vice-grip he’s applied for so many years and, in tandem with his hooker Damien Varley, he headed towards Strauss and Ross. The reason is simple; as Strauss was to strike it meant that a supremely timed Munster frontrow with Paul O’Connell and Dave Foley behind would have only Ross to contend with as Strauss lifted his right foot.
What Bent should have done in those circumstances was occupy Botha but he was unable to do so. That Ross didn’t end up in the car park and played till the 77th minute is testament to his steely character . Ross was the real threat and Munster displayed a real understanding of the values and techniques in ignoring Bent to completely destabilise Ross and the Leinster scrum.
Johnston a loss to Toulouse? There’s no doubt in my mind that Munster would target his scrummaging and what an opportunity it would be for Dave Kilcoyne and James Cronin. Cronin in particular has the lower frame to expose the massive Johnston. Alongside him, Toulouse hooker Christopher Tolofua had a torrid time from the Toulon frontrow especially with New Zealand and Toulon tighthead legend Carl Hayman and hooker Craig Burden doing to Toulouse exactly what Munster did to Leinster.