Liam Toland: To stay alive in Europe, Munster must first be alive on pitch
Munster’s ability to recognise and then exploit opportunities has to sharpen up
Munster’s Tommy O’Donnell runs at Rory Best in Ravenhill. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Now that Munster have that all-important derby win, we can really look at their performances, especially with one eye on the tough but beatable Stade Francais.
Footballing decision- making is still an issue. Against Leinster with moments to go, substitute Billy Holland, with no plan in mind, tapped the ball to carry on; what was he thinking?
Thankfully, he was brought back but Munster still elected for a lineout over three points; which I’ve discussed. That’s game-management, but in Belfast Munster had exited from a defensive lineout with a ‘long’ box-kick from Tomás O’Leary. Andrew Trimble fielded easily before feeding his fullback Louis Ludik. In finding traffic, Ludik spilled too easily, allowing hard-working and talented Munster winger Ronan O’Mahony to get a loose ball on 13:58. What happened next?
I enquired of a schools team in Limerick recently, what they do on a turnover; stunned silence. Where are the opposition weakest at that immediate point? What, then, was O’Mahony thinking with his backline full and Ulster’s in slight disarray? He ignored all around him, and headed infield before chipping into Ulster’s Luke Marshall hands.
Had he fed wide, Munster may still have chosen to kick but they would have tested Ulster from deep, the most dangerous place, and could always have kicked into green grass; great opportunity lost?
Now, watch FC Grenoble’s third try against poor Oyonnax. And when watching, picture former Munster scrumhalf Mike Prendergast, Grenoble’s attack coach, at training each week. It was a clearing kick from Oyonnax onto Grenoble’s 10-metre line.
As Oyonnax number eight Viliami Ma‘afu challenged, Grenoble’s scrumhalf Charl McLeod gathered the loose ball (as O’Mahony above).
McLeod started it all. Watch the first two passes. Off they go. And finally, watch who received the last pass 60 metres later to score; yes, the Grenoble scrum half McLeod.
Munster will get opportunities in Paris and it’s crucial that all players recognise them; feed early and stay alive, as Grenoble did. Super stuff, Prendergast.
Speaking of superb, I hinted last week at the value of Tommy O’Donnell’s return.
Of course, a player of his quality brings many values, but his reading of evolving rugby is superb; such as when he is in the no-man’s land at the tail of a defensive lineout with Ulster attacking. Ulster sent big Nick Williams down the channel to test Ian Keatley but with many other points of attack O’Donnell had to wait for the last safe moment before supporting (protecting) his outhalf.
Moments later, on 16:54, he made a massive clear out of Trimble from Rory Scannell’s super breakaway off yet another sloppy Ulster play.
Clearing out backs is traditionally easier than forwards but not for Trimble, who is massive and technically very sound over the tackle.
However, with my TMO question last week in mind, I can’t resist boring you; the breakdown laws dictates that on completion of the tackle Trimble must fully disengage Scannell before challenging for the ball. Trimble never left Scannell and, in swinging everything he had to disrupt Munster’s ball, he dislodged it with his right foot.
Yes, Scannell should never have lost control especially with seven metres to go, but Trimble should have been yellow carded and Munster should have scored a try. Yes, we focus on the TMO of the last two weekends but missing this is equally subpar.
That’s six tries scored in three Irish derby matches over Christmas, three of which are most dubious, with another that never occurred.
Back to O’Donnell, who after only two returns since injury displays the wonderful openside ability to arrive where the action is at its most crucial. This is a skill primarily in reading the game, which many elite players don’t have.
Yes, the academy can drill young players full of lingo that would bamboozle an old international with 50 caps, but like O’Mahony above, players require an ability to read the evolving events that may not have come from a book.
On 50:27 on the right-hand side, Ruan Pienaar, taking from his retreating scrum, gets his backline going from their 22. An early carry from Stuart McCloskey with a screen gives Paddy Jackson a pull-back pass to hit space wide. Trimble comes in off the blindside wing to give an extra attacking number, forcing Munster’s Francis Saili into a chase, but Munster’s Gerhard van den Heever’s makes a poor read and steps in.
Trimble hits his fullback as Saili follows on to hit but then Ulster’s Rory Scholes comes off his left wing, slipping inside a poor effort from Lucas González Amorosino. He continues further inside to the hard-covering O’Leary before O’Donnell smashes Scholes dead. Great work ethic, great read and great technique.
So it was a great win for Keatley and Munster in Belfast but with 42 per cent of all the action in Munster’s own 22 after 30 minutes, a team more focused than Ulster would have done more damage than 7-3. So, how good are Stade Francais? The answer can be found at number eight.
In coming weeks I hope to look at Irish number eights but, for all of his obvious qualities, CJ Stander struggles in many aspects of footballing number eight play, such as his control at the base where on 33 minutes O’Leary was forced to tidy up Stander’s ball; or the 52:19 minute pass from O’Leary that slipped through his hands. That aside, his work ethic and ball-carrying can neutralise Sergio Parisse who is far fonder of going forward than tackling big powerful men. Munster Abú. firstname.lastname@example.org