Anthony Foley’s men finding form at right time
‘If I did have a fiver to bet, probably the price of a coffee in Ireland, I’d have it on Munster’
Munster’s Paul O’Connell scores a try. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho
The mind is indeed a funny thing. Super Saturday wasn’t quite as deserving of such a billing as the Six Nations’ final day proved to be. Yet even so, helped by generally sunny conditions, it rained tries, 39 of them in six games as compared to the 28 in the Six Nations’ last three games, and 286 points in six games compared to the latter’s 221 in three.
There was something at stake in six games which kicked off simultaneously, and there was plenty of ebb and flow, with the home advantage in the second semi-final going down to the wire. Nowhere caught the last-day bug more than Munster in a sun-kissed Cork on a pristine surface, as they ran in eight tries and conceded four.
As so often happens when a superior team is chasing tries and a bonus point – and as happened here last time out against Treviso – they can also become a little distracted along the way and hence a little sloppy defensively. The weaker side, with little tangible to play for, might themselves shirk a few tackles but also indulge themselves when the opportunity arose. In a curious way, events here underlined how well Ireland kept their defensive focus against Scotland in Murrayfield, and how this as much as their more expansive attacking intent, landed them the title.
Left to sweat
Considering all of that, Munster actually stayed focused pretty well. Their maul once again remained their most potent and reliable source of go-forward, and indeed directly to three of their tries. Within eight minutes they had set out their intent by eschewing a safe three-pointer to go to the corner to rumble over for CJ Stander’s ninth try of the season.
Yet Munster broadened their brush too, especially after sealing the bonus point. Andrew Smith, in that unobtrusive way of his, had another fine game, showing a sharp turn of foot for the first of his three line breaks and the first of Munster’s tries from fully 40-metres plus – his fifth try of the season.
There was a also a classy left-to-right backline try – Denis Hurley making the inroads before Smith and Felix Jones gave Keith Earls a 30-metre finish. Again looking razor sharp, this was his fifth try in his last six games, and he has surely played his way into the World Cup squad.
A close-range hat-trick from a cumulative distance of about five metres brought Murray’s tally to six tries in what has been a singularly productive, campaign for the scrumhalf.
When the Dragons’ head coach Lynn Jones was asked for his thoughts on who would win the Pro12 this season, he plumped for Munster.
“Munster are the best team I’ve seen in the competition,” he said. “If I did have a fiver to bet, which is probably the price of a coffee in Ireland, I’d probably have it on Munster.”
He was then asked why?
Having paused for a good 10seconds, which at least shows he considers the questions, Jones responded: “Their error count is low, their set-piece is very clean and home advantage will be too much for the Ospreys. Munster and the Ospreys are by far the two best teams we’ve played this season. It’s a shame they’re not in the final.
“Ospreys played good rugby in the first half of the season. No different to other teams, they have missed their internationals because Alun Wyn Jones and their half-backs are a massive influence.
“They missed them in the winter and lost a few games. They’re quite clinical when those guys are present and they’re a difficult side to play against.”
But smiling, he added: “When you’ve just been thumped 50 points, you will naturally favour the team that’s done it to you, I suppose.”
Pushed on the other semi-final, Jones said: “Glasgow will win their semi-final. They’re like Ulster, they can be mercurial and inconsistent, unlike the other two semi-finalists.
“Like Leinster, Ulster’s performances have dipped this season. And you just don’t know what you’re going to get from Glasgow, they can be dire or brilliant. Home advantage is very important in big games. Whatever the competition, it has a huge influence.”