Stephen Larkham maintains criticism of Munster playing style is ‘misinformed’

Former Australian outhalf praises ‘top-notch’ performance from Jack Crowley against Castres

Munster assistant coach Stephen Larkham believes much of the criticism of Munster’s playing style is ’misinformed’ and that the stats back it up. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster assistant coach Stephen Larkham believes much of the criticism of Munster’s playing style is ’misinformed’ and that the stats back it up. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

The outside noise around Munster’s brand of rugby may be increasing in volume but, as ever, Stephen Larkham exuded calmness when questioned by the media on Wednesday, maintaining that much of the criticism was misinformed.

Since the rip-roaring bonus-point win away to Wasps, when a dozen of the match squad, including five of the starting line-up, made their debuts, Munster have managed to score five tries in the ensuing four games.

In between a couple of characteristic arm wrestles with Castes, there was a 10-8 defeat by Connacht and a 14-man comeback win at home to Ulster, but this has been in sharp contrast to the comparatively freewheeling, attacking brand of rugby which earned Connacht, Leinster and Ulster attacking bonus points in their games last weekend.

“I think you’ve got to be realistic when you look at our game and know that we are not the team that kicks the most in our games. I know we have been criticised for kicking too much in the past but the stats just don’t add up,” said Larkham.

“We feel that we’ve got a very balanced game. We play a game that we want to play. We feel that when there’s an opportunity on the table that we’d like to think that we are going to take those opportunities. I think we’ve got a very sound game and I think we are improving.

“I’ve spoken to you guys a couple of times this season, and I feel that we’ve definitely improved and we’re still improving. We’re looking for improvement every week. Some weeks the game doesn’t come together because of the conditions or the referee, or different circumstances. But we certainly have enough variety in our game.

“I could probably add to those specific questions but when you talk generally that we haven’t got the best game, I think that’s misinformed.”

Specifically addressing the last four games, Larkham said: “If you look at our previous four games some of the passages in those four games haven’t been great and we put our hand up and said that we need to be better.

“I’d say in other games the referee has made some questionable decisions that have made it very difficult for us to get a bit of a roll on. And then recently we’ve had a couple of really good passages and a couple of really good performances. Maybe the score didn’t reflect how well we played in the last couple of games I feel.”

Munster outhalf Jack Crowley makes a break during the Heineken Champions Cup game against Castres at Stade Pierre-Fabre. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Munster outhalf Jack Crowley makes a break during the Heineken Champions Cup game against Castres at Stade Pierre-Fabre. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Jack Crowley’s full Champions Cup debut in Castres last Friday would have been invaluable in the 22-year-old’s progression after being deprived of so much rugby in the last two years. He landed his four kicks at goal and showed his innate ability to attack the gainline.

“That’s a natural part of his game. His core skills as a five-eighth, kicking, passing, game-control – they were top-notch on the weekend,” said the multi-decorated Larkham, himself one of the finest running outhalves the game has ever seen.

“He’s always had that natural element to his game, that natural instinct to carry the ball and carry the ball well. It’s not something we necessarily need to encourage.”

While Joey Carbery has been progressing well form the fractured elbow he sustained late on in that win over Wasps, he is still not back in full training, although having been ruled out last week, Ben Healy is available again, thus leaving Van Graan and Larkham with a decision at ‘10’.

“That’ll all come out on Friday,” said Larkham. “I think he [Crowley] had a very good performance and there’s no doubting that. There’s a number of young No 10s here who are pushing for the starting position and they’re all training and pushing extremely well.”

The likelihood is that Healy will be restored.

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