The Munster squad which performed so lamentably in losing to the Dragons last Sunday in Newport were obliged to fly home on Monday due to the return of regular flights instead of covid-related private charters. Graham Rowntree has confirmed that the performance prompted an unpleasant, if delayed, review on Tuesday.
The video nasty featured poor breakdown work, 13 handling errors, 15 penalties conceded and 31 missed tackles, and Rowntree admitted: “Yeah, not good. I’m not going to shy away from that. I certainly didn’t and the players haven’t. We’ve addressed it. We had a long journey home, a quick few hours at home with the family on Monday, and back in on Tuesday fixing it, looking at it, being honest. It was a very honest review, and we move forward.”
Rowntree maintained the side’s breakdown issues were not the consequence of the players adapting to the methods of new attack coach Mike Prendergast.
“It’s not the result of a new attacking framework, it’s the result of reactions from individuals. Individual responsibility, that comes from the ball carrier and the guys’ reaction to that, and it’s got to be better.
“The pictures are undeniable. The breakdown is the heartbeat of the game and it’s got to be better. It has received a lot of attention this week.”
All the areas that needed addressing in light of their opening two defeats were, Rowntree maintained, fixable.
“Yes, very, particularly last week’s game in terms of our accuracy, decision-making and our discipline. I mentioned accuracy, it’s making the right decisions under pressure, sticking to the plan that we spoke about. Yes, it’s very much in our control so that’s what we’ve addressed this week.”
Despite losing away to both Cardiff and the Dragons, on top of friendly defeats by Gloucester and London Irish in Cork, Rowntree remained adamant that Munster had a good pre-season.
“I have absolute belief in the body of work we have gone through this summer. We worked exceptionally hard, trained well. I’ve been around a bit and have seen a lot of pre-seasons, a lot of training environments and I have absolute belief in what we’ve done and that it’s going to come out in the game. As I keep saying, it’s stuff that we can control, and we have to be better. So, we’ve addressed that this week.
Munster entertain Zebre Parma at Musgrave Park on Saturday evening (kick-off 5.05pm) and Rowntree accepted this is a must-win game for his side, albeit he countered: “Which game isn’t a must-win game? The next game is always a must-win game, that’s the nature of the sport. I don’t mean to be flippant but they’re all must-win games in this League.”
While Zebre sit just two places above Rowntree’s side in 13th as one of only three sides to have lost their opening two games - Connacht are the other - the Italian outfit have scored ten tries to Munster’s two in high-scoring defeats at home by Leinster and the Sharks, and accumulated four bonus points.
“They’ve scored some good tries, haven’t they?” Rowntree admitted. “They’re coming over full of confidence. Crikey, they’re playing quick. We certainly can’t play too loosely against them but it’s another chance for us to right our wrongs. We’ve had a disappointing start to the season, I’m not going to shy away from that.”
The new Munster head coach confirmed that Keith Earls, who was replaced in the 14th minute last Sunday with a hamstring injury, has not trained yet this week. “No, he’s not trained today. I haven’t got any more information than that, but I can confirm he’s not trained today.”
Captain Peter O’Mahony completed last Sunday’s game despite incurring an ankle injury and is expected to return to training later this week, while Jean Kleyn sustained a concussion against the Dragons and will follow the graduated return-to-play protocols.
While Alex Kendellen has been ruled out of the Emerging Ireland tour and will complete his return-to-play protocols, nine other Munster players are with that squad in Bloemfontein pending the first of three games against Griquas on Friday, namely Thomas Ahern, Diarmuid Barron, Jack Crowley, Shane Daly, Antoine Frisch, John Hodnett, Calvin Nash, Roman Salanoa and Josh Wycherley.
Gavin Coombes (groin), RG Snyman (knee), Jack Daly (knee), Andrew Conway (knee) also remain unavailable although Rory Scannell (nose) will return to squad training this week.