Munster must engage Toulon in warfare long before the inevitable ruck
To do so they must recognise their weaknesses and play to their strengths
For Munster to keep the ball on or beyond the gain line against Toulon in Marseille. James Downey (with ball, above), in particular, must get flat, quick ball ad nauseam. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
I’ve a different view on Leinster’s performance against Toulon. It was said by themselves and others they didn’t land a punch; but in not conceding three tries in the opening 15 min they landed huge punches. Leinster scrambled brilliantly, forcing handling errors from Toulon to stay alive in a fixture that could have been over in 20 minutes.
Toulon clearly had a ruthless game plan to counteract Leinster’s and in going through the personnel that employed same it’s hard to argue with Bernard Laporte.
My concern for Munster centres on what game plan Laporte will bring to Marseille.
If he has paid attention to Munster’s last two outings he will have encouraging food for thought. Munster played badly against Glasgow and against Connacht, where their defence off set plays, especially on the right wing, was abysmal; but they beat them comfortably by converting Connacht errors miles out into brilliant scores.
So Laporte is likely to adjust his game plan towards territory and away from risky gain line plays. The key to this is Toulon’s ability to play tactically as they wish. This is especially so with the boot of Jonny Wilkinson at 10 and the hands of Matt Giteau at 12.
Aligned to them are 13-plus players who can play intricate gain-line plays at full pace but also carry/power into weak shoulders, offload, run devastating support lines and crucially, tackle.
What’s most impressive in the Toulon tackling is the devastating combination of power, pace and technique.
I’ve long been a fan of yards after contact; but that’s when carrying the ball. Toulon have developed yards after contact when tackling and it’s frightening; raw power, perfect technique, right on contact.
All this before you get to the breakdown or as Muhammad Ali noted, the fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.
This Sunday the breakdown will be won or lost long before the breakdown occurs, where the steal can be sourced phases earlier. Hence Munster must engage Toulon in warfare long before the inevitable ruck.
To achieve this they must recognise their weaknesses and play to their strengths.
Connacht’s back line was far superior in every facet last weekend to Munster’s. They played with comfort on the gain line, executing at pace with decoy running to confuse Munster’s defence and ultimately score tries.