Hawkeye Sidekick

Guinness Pro 12: Newport Gwent Dragons 22-6 Munster

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“His (Dan Mooney) big thing was bitterness and pride. Be proud of where you come from, but have a bit of a dog in you, a chip on your shoulder.”

These words are taken from Anthony Foley’s autobiography in 2008, words which summed up the attitude of Munster after a loss regardless of whether the province was playing in amateur or professional ranks. Foley, Clohessy, Galwey, O’Connell, O’Callaghan, Quinlan, Wallace, Leamy, ROG would take a loss with Munster and use to it motivate to deliver a victory the following weekend. Munster smarting from a historic Connacht victory at Thomond Park came into this contest looking for a reaction. Hawkeye Sidekick did not see it.

Opportunity Knocks

Rodney Parade, a close knit ground where the home supporters are passionate and put both opposition and match officials under pressure. An atmosphere which will test even the most seasoned professional rugby player. Anthony Foley conscious of pivotal European Cup fixtures against Leicester Tigers in the next two weeks saw this fixture as an opportunity to introduce fringe squad players to the front line. Ten changes from the side who were defeated by Connacht. A big opportunity for the likes of Johnston, Scannell’s, Copeland to issue the ultimatum to Munster management to become more pivotal figures in the first team but the opportunity was wastefully spurned.

Newport Cruise

Newport thoroughly deserved this much needed victory. The Dragons have shown huge potential in the majority of their Pro 12 games this season but their inability to put scores on the board when dominating territory and game management issues at critical moments have led to several narrow losses. European Challenge Cup form has being a positive and the Dragons will be in the shakeup for honors in this competition come April. Their side lineup today was a nice mix of youth and experience. Young back line players such as Hewitt, Warren and Hughes were complemented with the massive experience and stature of Faletau and Landman. From the first whistle today, Newport showed the greater endeavor and work rate in all facets of play. The 6-6 scoreline at the interval was kind for Munster as they were constantly on the back foot. Yes, Zebo and Amorosino had try chances spurned but Newport’s superior work at the breakdown was turning the tide for the hosts. The lack of Munster pressure on out-half Jones was allowing Newport to control the territorial battle. Rory Scannell was probably the only positive for Munster in that first half, slotting two penalties presented and his kicking to touch was mostly on point.

Second Half Munster Capitulation

All level at the interval and one would have expected Munster management to lay into their charges during half-time. Munster’s slow line speed defensively and lethargic running lines well behind the game line was making Newport Gwent Dragons afternoon an easy one. Chisholm tried to rally the troops with his work rate and tackle count on the restart but with the back row routed in the breakdown exchanges, Newport started to win penalties deep into Munster territory.

Newport out-half Jones added to the hosts total with a penalty and drop goal to open up a six point difference in the third quarter to force Munster to come out and throw the ball around to conjure a try. The end result was a horror show; phrases of play destroyed by poor ball handling and protection. Denis Hurley will not want to review the game tape in that second half coughing ball over in quick succession with ten minutes left. Newport witnessing a Munster team imploding with each passing minute steadied themselves to kill off the contest at the death. The imposing Landman who evaded several would be Munster missed tackles to crash over in the corner. The home faithful rejoiced. The Dragons players started to celebrate, a win which will increase confidence for the rest of the season, a prized scalp in the bag. Munster players could not wait for the final whistle to blow.

Munster Horror Show

If Anthony Foley hoped that several of his fringe players would keep him up at night thinking about team selection ahead of the Leicester Tigers contest next Saturday, it was the exact opposite. The Munster team next weekend will be around familiar lines such was the low performance levels witnessed in the players wearing red. Munster’s indiscipline throughout was disgraceful, the breakdown area was a major pain point. Players not rolling away, not releasing in the tackle were picked up by the match official.

Tyler Bleyendaal’s cameo at out-half means that Keatley is assured of his starting berth. The Kiwi’s injury record with the province means that game time is a serious issue for the player and his ring rust due to a quad strain was evident today. His penalty kick miss was poor and while he tried to launch Munster attacks, his colleagues offered little in the way of attacking the game line with many shirking responsibility.

Robin Copeland, the player has undoubted ability but his work rate at times in the trenches is sometimes questionable. A dynamic ball carrier but his back row options today were not at the level required today. Buckley is not at this level and was put to the sword today.

European Rugby – Thomond Park (16th Man)

Thomond Park next weekend could be a pivotal event. The 16th man may not be able to rescue this current squad from an unmerciful hiding from Leicester Tigers. Munster management are struggling to come up with answers to several issues in game management both attacking and defense. The breakdown is an area where Munster need to excel at but both Connacht and Newport have won this facet of play in recent weeks. Anthony Foley under pressure. Munster under pressure. Will there be a reaction next weekend? A province holds its breathe but the warning signs seen in performance in recent seasons and weeks could now prove fatal. Prove me wrong Axel. Prove me wrong Munster.