Ir is extremely early days in the Guinness Pro 12 season but a distinct gap has opened between the top six and bottom six in the league. For Munster, they are safely in the leading pack and positioned quite nicely after a 28-14 win against an Edinburgh side who struggled at set-piece throughout.
Munster’s defensive and attacking line speed were considerably improved from the last weekend’s close run victory over Newport Gwent Dragons but there were subtle areas of play which will have caused Erasmus concern.
One of those areas was how Edinburgh opened the scoring when lack of control in the ruck area with possession saw the ball come to winger Dean who strode unopposed to score. The visitors probably will argue that it was the least that they deserved following a positive opening quarter with the back row unit prominent in early exchanges.
A real kick in the teeth as Edinburgh were a player down but Munster regrouped well and with their set-piece utterly dominant particularly at scrum time, the hosts were 14-7 up at the break.
Marauding scrummaging from Munster five meters out was finished by a smart Conor Murray finish. The second try was caused by consternation in the Edinburgh ranks after more scrum pressure with Hidalgo Clyne losing possession inside in his own in-goal area. The scramble for the ball was won by Munster and Murray duly did the needful and touched down.
The third try in this contest ultimately settled the contest and what a moment for debutante Conor Oliver who showed an impressive turn of foot to finish with only ninety seconds on the second half clock.
A great moment for a player who Munster have great hopes for. Oliver was on because of the early withdrawal of Jack O’Donoghue who was stretchered off due to a collision with Frazer McKenzie. Injury team news ahead of the Zebre fixture will be noted with interest.
Tyler Bleyendaal has had an extremely frustrating Munster career due to extensive injury problems but the New Zealand player has massive appreciation for open space and making the right pass. His pass to Dave O’Callaghan was sublime and the back row player secured the bonus point with the minimum of fuss after only fifty-seven minutes.
Munster management will have plenty of items to review their charges this week. The four try haul was good but several other opportunities were spurned due to lack of cohesion. The last quarter performance for the hosts was pretty flat at times and allowed Edinburgh to score their second try courtesy of Hardie where lack of defensive line speed was evident.
Amid those negatives, this was an encouraging performance from Munster who exposed the opposition’s weak points in the front five. The scrum has being an important weapon for Munster this season and it continued to impress yesterday with Kilcoyne, Scannell and Ryan having prominent cameos. Tougher tests lie ahead for the front row but this is most encouraging for an unit who struggled at times last season.
Edinburgh are now facing a massive must win contest next weekend away to a Connacht team who need the win themselves to reignite their season. A loss for either side and the Challenge Cup will beckon next season and key squad players looking at their options.
Edinburgh have massive potential in open play but their pack was constantly on the back foot in the set-piece. The scrum was a major concern; points were conceded primarily in this area. An exciting half-back and back line needs good go forward ball and the fact that the scrum has struggled is not giving themselves a chance to get into position to win contests.
For Munster, Zebre come to Thomond Park next weekend and it may be an opportunity for Munster management to give some game time to the likes of Goggins and Bohane who has excelled in recent weeks. Sweetnam has slotted seamlessly onto the wing and the introduction of Ian Keatley at full-back is a welcome addition.
Keatley’s big boot will aid Bleyendaal at half-back whose passing and game management with ball in hand is undeniable but needs to show in the next couple of weeks whether he has the kicking game to launch a platform for Munster deep into opposition territory when the winter weather hits.
Encouraging signs for Munster but fans will be realistic that tougher tests will ensue in the next couple of weeks to determine what level Munster are at in the context of challenging for honors this season. Interesting times lie ahead.