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.
Why is this so important? Well behind the monsters Toulouse have in the secondrow names such as Yoann Maestri and Patricio Albacete. Maestri was magnificent in Paris when Ireland played France. In fact he was single handedly knocking over Irish breakdowns and swallowing up ball carriers especially around the fringes. But it is 122kg Samoan secondrow Joe Tekori that is a sight to behold.
If you need convincing, YouTube, “Joe Tekori bounces off O’Connell” when Ireland entertained Samoa. He is a monster and has beautiful hands, both popping and spinning wide. That’s some power around the field but especially so in the scrum where Botha and co will no doubt have been targeting Johnston to reduce Toulouse’s scrum stability.
Style is always a key player in these Irish French games where Toulouse, full of running, will kick/drop kick plenty of ball. Munster’s wide-wide game is designed to stretch opposition defences. This worked initially but as video nerds pored over it, teams learned how to defend with reasonable ease. Hence this style, if insisted upon by Rob Penney, may prove Munster’s undoing.
Conversely Toulouse like to get it wide too with a massive pull back by ten to a screened midfield who find Picamoles at full flight, not unlike Leinster’s Victor Costello of old. What it does is afford Toulouse options. Picamoles doesn’t have to receive, just fix defenders and if he does receive then he’ll invariable break the first tackle with Yoann Huget, Hosea Gear or Vincent Clerc in support.
For me the 10, 12 and 13 performance from Munster is the key and requires the level of co-ordination that the Munster frontrow find with ease. This trinity did not maximise the Munster scrum dominance nor the general game when Leinster were vulnerable. Munster’s extremely talented back three simply don’t get the same opportunities.
One thing Munster will have in abundance is the energy to move Toulouse around and play till the 80th minute. Hence Munster’s 10, 12, 13 axis will have to ensure that all avenues are exploited. Ultimately can Toulouse live with the relentless intensity of Munster? “Ball time in play” should expose the French fatties not to mention a narrow old school Munster offloading game along with a lineout maul and green grass grubbers.
As for Ulster and Leinster!
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