Liam Toland: Negating Bastareaud’s threat simply an imperative for Munster
Toulon centre’s ability to wreak havoc must be curbed if home side are to prevail
Tackling Toulon’s Mathieu Bastareaud is one thing: preventing him offloading is quite another. Photograph: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images.
Munster had just beaten a lacklustre Castres Olympique 48-03 in a rain-delayed fixture that was decided long before kick-off with Racing 92 beating Leicester earlier that morning. Castres could not progress. They made an effort in fairness but Muster were to overpower them in a classic Thomond Park fixture.
My answer as to the preferred opposition?
I ventured then that, if secondrow Jean Kleyn was to be available, Munster would have a cracking chance with Toulon rolling into town. Well Kleyn is available and still crucial but, with so many other crucial Munster faces out or potentially out, I now fear the result.
Forget Clermont Auvergne’s massive defeat to Toulon last weekend as the French table is oft-times impossible to interpret. But do focus on the cause; Toulon’s 20 offloads and that Rory Scannell (if selected) can tackle Mathieu Bastareaud nine times where in order to bring him down his tackle technique must be close to perfect.
Many external facets influence the outcome of the intended tackle; what the Munster inside men have accomplished. Did they slow down the recycle sufficiently to allow the Munster midfield reset their defence?
Did they slow down the recycle sufficiently to allow the fatties spread the field ensuring that Scannell doesn’t have to make that tackle in the first place? Did they lead the line speed sufficiently to limit the head of Bastareaud steam? And finally did they support Scannell in double teaming Bastareaud, knocking him down and tying up the ball.
Because knocking him is almost useless as Clermont discovered on the sixth minute of play. Toulon had a terrible attack where Bastareaud patted the ball to left wing Semi Radradra who in heavy traffic returned the ball. All was quiet as Clermont honey potted on Bastareaud.
Clermont’s blindside wing forward Judicael Cancoriet chopped Bastareaud down but in his uniquely classic ankle, knee, hip, belly sequence, Bastareaud had time to simply pop up to scrumhalf Eric Escande who cut through to score. A try from the most appalling backline attack. But unless the Bastareaud ball is tied up that’s what happens.
So, assuming all the above is in place what happens when it flags a tad, say the tenth time Bastareaud carries where a seven-pointer will certainly follow. Thirteen minutes after their opening try, Bastareaud plodded into the Clermont 22. This time outside centre Damian Penaud pulled him down but the greatest threat to Munster’s success is the loitering Chris Ashton who’ll be a constant float around Bastareaud. His timing is immaculate and as Bastareaud’s belly hit the deck Asthon was crossing the try line all too easily, untouched.
But life does not end between Ashton and Bastareaud as Malakai Fekitoa is pure class in the No 13 jersey. It can become relentless. So; Munster’s timing of the support tackle is crucial. Can Munster latch onto the ball before the offload?
To achieve this do Munster narrow their defence in an acknowledgment that although the first man may stop Bastareaud he simply can’t negate the inevitable offload. So load a second defender to immediately attack the ball. Narrowing a defence carries huge risks but with 20 offloads against Clermont they are achieving far more than any Irish team.
Ironically those 20 offloads create a Munster opportunity where Toulon are accustomed to running support lines expecting to get the offload. With so many bruising carriers such as right wing Josua Tuisova coming off the blindside at scrum time the expectation is to break the tackle where the worst-case scenario is a deft offload.
If Munster get them on to the deck and tie the ball it will change Toulon’s running/support lines or they’ll lose the subsequent breakdown battle. Get them to commit three players and the dynamic will change entirely.
But watch out for Tuisova as dead rucks on the right hand side is when he’s hungriest. He comes off his right wing at scrum time but equally he’ll hunt for narrow lines off rucks to expose fatiguing fatties.
Ireland received a massive boost in morale these past weeks but Bastareaud jumped particularly high when France defeated England. His journey has been far from linear but clearly he is motivated which makes him and the runners off him all the more dangerous.
But watch out too for his ability, especially in his own 22, to get over the Munster ball trapping all and sundry into the darkness of the breakdown where, like his technique being tackled, he too gets his feet wide, shoulders low and his belly balancing on the tackled player. Once there, he’s impossible to shift.
Finally, this weekend we’ll witness top-end professionals at the peak of their powers playing knockout European rugby. Many of whom are ‘fresh’ off the Six Nations. With this in mind there’s been a wonderful reaction to the concept raised last Friday of the inappropriateness of the professional game designed for these top-end mature athletes being superimposed upon developing young athletes; school or club.
I will continue this theme in coming weeks but am encouraged by the reaction to explore further topics such as the schools/club pathway, the win-at-all-costs culture, the fun aspect and crucially the environment where our developing players are exposed; should mistakes be encouraged in an effort to develop the mind, the body and the skills. Get this bit right and the professional elite game will teach/impose the rest. And there may be fewer players giving up before they’re 20.