Liam Toland: The maximisation of indigenous resources key if Irish provinces are to succeed
Taking on the money boys of Toulon is not an option for the IRFU
Casey Laulala in action against Toulon: “Casey Laulala is a case in point where the accuracy he consistently displayed fell below standard.”
What is success? Is it winning trophies or developing indigenous talent or both? This time next year Toulon will be stronger, faster, more powerful and better versed at negotiating their way to the final than this year, which raises a crucial question for the Irish provinces. Facing the same opposition (but improved) in April 2015 what changes are required from Munster or indeed the other provinces? What do we need to do to move ahead? If all three provinces replayed their last European games tomorrow, how would the result differ?
In answering this question there is clearly no point in moaning over home verses away draws or referee interpretations; what if they reoccur next year and again the year after? All three Irish provinces have proven one thing this season. The talent base, quality of coaching and European experience is currently more than sufficient to gain access to the play-offs; beyond is the challenge.
Munster did some very clever things last Sunday such as place CJ Stander out in midfield for Ian Keatley’s magnificent restarts. Knowing your opposition is crucial here and clearly Munster had a plan to expose Toulon’s lumbering exit strategy through Juan Smith in midfield. It worked and worked very well because these Toulon errors afforded Munster a foothold and placed doubt in the minds of Toulon.
This clever approach continued, with managing referee Wayne Barnes’s scrum interpretation. I felt Dave Kilcoyne’s feet were too far back to support the monster Carl Hayman’s frame and made him vulnerable to Barnes. But after the first couple, Kilcoyne cleverly reversed the trend gaining two free kicks and a couple of penalties.
Munster’s deficiencies are most obvious when playing lesser sides in the Rabo. When intensity and aggression were pumped into the Heineken Cup system, they often papered over the cracks. But crucially when precision was required to negotiate a surprisingly vulnerable Toulon especially after Keatley’s cracking touchline conversion it lay absent.
Casey Laulala is a case in point where the accuracy he consistently displayed fell below standard. In Marseille he lobbed balls, air balls, behind the shoulder balls and in one phenomenal opportunity to hammer Toulon’s exit strategy he decided to run at a two v one with Keith Earls waiting on a clean run. Toulon had just gone 12-6 up, with those extra three points coming from a Jonny Wilkinson drop goal; Munster having dropped his previous restart. Moments later Wilkinson exiting another Keatley restart fired a Garryowen landing just outside his own 22.
On 31:30 Laulala reacted brilliantly in gathering the bouncing ball right on Toulon’s 22, 15 metres from the right touchline. At this point Toulon had 14 players aimlessly in the open field with only one left to defend 15 metres. Laulala carried, made contact and then fired a sloppy pass to Earls’ left shoulder with the ball bobbling into touch. That Earls calmly accepted the standard is testament to his temperament but in that sloppy moment Munster allowed a certain seven points slip (12-13).