Liam Toland: O’Mahony must stay if Munster’s status is to be maintained
Province have the wherewithal to deal with a competent but far from great Leicester
Leicester’s George Ford: programmed to find green grass wherever and whenever possible and is leading the Premiership kicking stats. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
“You see... I had a farm in Africa; at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”
Baroness Karen von Blixen may have a solution for Irish rugby, akin to Saracens et al. Witnessing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto accompany the unfurling of a wonderful love story in Out of Africa, I wondered what Munster is prepared to do.
For Munster and Irish rugby face a conundrum.
Don’t pay Peter O’Mahony his value and risk his flight or pay his value and blow the ‘salary cap’. Or; arrive to a satisfactory compromise that is both creative and bold. A farm in Africa? Not quite, but?
Apparently it would take a monumental insult in value to force O’Mahony and his young family abroad but value is value. Should he go then his team-mates will look around the dressing room. A fourth coach in four years, Donnacha Ryan gone and both O’Mahony and Simon Zebo (and CJ Stander) soon to follow.
I’m convinced that Zebo’s departure is as much to do with the lack of love in Irish camp as it is his dream come true. Either way a team that looks permanently trapped in rebuild mould (coach & players) would not survive the player reaction. Players are individually selfish in their pursuit of success and those of the calibre of Conor Murray, Keith Earls et al will react to a club’s lack of ability/ambition. O’Mahony must remain.
Solution; keep the Irish salary cap but top it all up with a loyalty bonus on completing four contracts; a farm in West Cork for instance or a guaranteed underwritten testimonial to a certain value on retirement. In CJ Stander’s case, Baroness von Blixen’s actual farm!
Who are the interesting visitors?
Leicester’s George Ford at outhalf is certainly one but will it be Ford the kicker or Ford the runner? The result depends on same. His evolving kicking game, whether an Eddie Jones or Matt O’Connor directive is moot, but he’s programmed to find green grass wherever and whenever possible and is leading the Premiership kicking stats.
But it’s the variety of his kicking game; cross field box, outside of his right foot banana slider that’ll require Munster’s back three to understand that even after one phase Ford is liable to tire of the shape and go into the air. However, he is very prone to poor aerial play and Munster should target him when he’s out of his natural ten slot; when sliding into the back field post his own kick.
Ford, to be fair, balances his team’s ‘basic’ tactics; which are a continuous sniffing around the edges and conservative rewinds, close to the breakdown with precious few triple passes in play. And this is where Leicester will target.
But should it be with Ford the runner then Leicester have more than a chance especially with Ford’s half back partner Ben Youngs who has a wonderful ability to get around the corner of an evolving ruck whilst squaring up his shoulders, ball in both hands tricking the pillar defence that he is hunting for a break and just as the fringe bite he’ll pop to a hard running ‘blind’ runner into the hole created by the ‘tricked’ defence.
Youngs’ trick? Ball in both hands and squaring his shoulders at the pillars but his magic is in his eyes; watch his eyes sucking in the pillar.
Add Dan Cole at tight head and Munster’s dwindling options at loosehead and there’s no doubt Leicester front row will target a perceived weakness from injuries by using the quality of Cole to fix the ever improving David Kilcoyne as Leicester’s loosehead and hooker Tom Youngs to attack Munster’s tighthead.
Leicester will also look to bully in their lineout maul where early Munster destruction is crucial by targeting the lineout lifter. Not the man from the rear but the lifter with hands on the front, especially when Leicester hit number two at the front of the lineout. Timing is crucial where overexuberance will so destabilise the jumper Munster could concede a penalty or worse.
Defensively Leicester are poor at shuffling laterally when under time pressure. That is when Munster change the point of contact quickly mid flow or attack one side and rewind the other – quickly. For some reason they often rebalance slowly and fail to shuffle inwards to plug the imbalance.
This is especially so when Leicester are retreating from a Munster line break. This is where CJ Stander can reap huge rewards; not as the ball carrier but as the ball biter.
Yes Stander should carry but as soon as Leicester defence are sweating on him he should employ tip-ons, circle passes but especially hard decoy runs to ‘trick’ Leicester’s defence whilst unlocking space for blindside wingers to exploit.
Yes Ford is vulnerable defensively to a head on charge from Stander but I think Munster can gain more from exposing Leicester’s defensive line by moving them about laterally. That Leicester missed a staggering 25 tackles last week against Wasps is bizarre but add in the 13 turnovers they conceded and Munster will be primed to exploit.
I really hope Munster’s latest change of coach, lengthening squad injuries list and contract talks don’t limit their game plan ambition. If Ford decides to kick Munster will win. But if he doesn’t, Munster’s ambition should keep a very competent but far from great Leicester out of a game.
How many tries do you see off first phase? Well Wasps scored a real beauty against Leicester last Saturday. Are Munster good enough to replicate that? I’d bet the farm!