Stephen Larkham and Munster remain wary of potent Wasps threat

Sunday’s visitors ended Leicester’s long unbeaten run and also beat the champions Toulouse last weekend

Stephen Larkham: ‘If you look at it from a Wasps perspective they’ve got a bit to fight for but we’ve certainly got a lot to fight for. That makes a massive difference, getting those home games.’ Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Stephen Larkham: ‘If you look at it from a Wasps perspective they’ve got a bit to fight for but we’ve certainly got a lot to fight for. That makes a massive difference, getting those home games.’ Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

Whatever the criticisms of their performances, many would envy Munster’s third place in Pool B going into the weekend’s concluding round of the pool sprint to the Heineken Champions Cup knock-out stages.

Come the 3.15pm kick-off against Wasps at Thomond Park on Sunday, the remainder of the Pool B games will have been completed, and it could be that Munster will already have secured a top four place. Failing that, they’ll know exactly what’s required of them to do so or, at a push, squeeze into the top two.

A top four finish would ensure their second leg in the round of 16 is at home and provide the carrot of a potential quarter-final at Thomond Park.

“Yeah, we’ve spoken about that,” said assistant coach Stephen Larkham yesterday. “That’s definitely a goal for us going into this game. I guess if you look at it from a Wasps perspective they’ve got a bit to fight for but we’ve certainly got a lot to fight for. That makes a massive difference, getting those home games.”

Since Munster’s epic 32-14 win in Coventry when Wasps were themselves hit by an outbreak of Covid in their ranks and a 25th minute red card for captain Brad Shields, Sunday’s visitors have ended Leicester’s season-long unbeaten run and beat the champions Toulouse last weekend.

“I wouldn’t take too much away from that performance last month,” Larkham said of their opponents. “Remember we got a [Wasps] red card early in that game. They were very difficult to play against, even with 14 men; their breakdown contest, their ball carries.

“They’re a dangerous side, there’s no doubt about that. and I think you’ve probably seen that with their more recent results, Leicester and Toulouse, good victories there, particularly down to 14 men against Toulouse. We were very conscious of how good they were going into our last game against them so nothing’s changed along those lines.”

Even if Munster did achieve a home quarter-final, doubts will remain about their ability to break through that Euro glass ceiling, but Larkham countered: “We feel that we’re doing some good stuff behind the scenes. Maybe it’s not transferring onto the field in terms of pictures but there’s a real strong belief in the team at the moment. I think that carries a lot of weight, particularly when you get to the back end of competitions.

“We have had a couple of disappointing games and we just want to make sure we are little more consistent with those games,” Larkham added. “Some of those were taken out of our control with the refereeing decisions, with the weather, with the way the game just panned out.”

Larkham cited Connacht’s ability to hold onto the ball against them.

“We passed the ball 11 times outside of our 9 and 10, and our average is about 30 to 40 times, which is pretty bang on just about every team in the competition. But that was an anomaly.”

Different reasons

“We are constantly working on evolving, evolving our attack, evolving our defence, evolving our kicking game, all of that evolves as the season goes on. We just want to make sure that we’re consistently putting a good performance on the paddock.

Munster laboured to translate possession and territory in Castres until Gavin Coombes’ late try and Larkham admitted that some of Munster’s execution, especially in the opposition 22, was not as good as it could have been.

“It’s just the way the game unfolded. There’s a number of different reasons why we’re not executing. Sometimes it’s the strategy that we go into the game with. If you look at the opportunity at the weekend, we offloaded a few passes when the offload probably wasn’t on.

“It’s not something we discourage, but we want to make sure there’s good control of the ball before the boys do that. We got inside their 22 a number of times, but we didn’t hold the ball. We addressed that after the game. Sometimes that happens. It wasn’t a collective thing, it was some individuals who had some sloppy offloads.”

One of the more feel-good stories lately was the decision by Munster, and RG Snyman, to extend his hitherto injury-bedevilled stay. “It is exciting,” said Larkham. While admitting this was not an easy decision to make, he expressed full confidence that Snyman can regain full fitness.

Against that, reports in South Africa tally with those here that Damian de Allende will return to Japan after this season.

“Look, it would be understandable,” said Larkham. “Players move around all the time. Yeah, disappointing. He’s been great for us. I’m not sure what your opinion of him is but he’s been great within the squad, within the organisation and then obviously his performances on the field have been tremendous as well. So yeah, he would be a loss, no doubt.”

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