If you are a subscriber to this blog, you know I like to take my time when reflecting on any Munster Rugby loss. The day of the game and writing a piece can be somewhat raw and unstructured so waited to post my thoughts on the game at Allianz Park this evening.
Injuries put excessive strain on Munster Rugby
The omens did not good even before kick off. Peter O’Mahony’s late scratch prompted a reshuffle of the squad with Jack O’Donoghue starting and Chris Cloete coming onto the bench.
The injury curse struck early in the contest with that serious looking ankle injury to Tadhg Beirne and then John Ryan retired from the game early.
Both players potentially had huge cameos in this contest. Munster Rugby admirably for a hour looked to overcome these setbacks but it was decisive come the final quarter.
I hate to say this but another Saracens fixture and another episode where Munster Rugby have not looked at their best (from an public relations perspective).
The image of a Munster Rugby jersey laden fan looking to confront Billy Vunipola on the pitch at the Ricoh Arena in the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final last season was bad enough but for Dr. Jamie Kearns, the club’s head medic to get involved in verbals with Jamie George is an embarrassment to the club.
The exchange between Kearns and George was the prelude to the handbags at midnight scene as George kicked the ball at Billy Holland with interest still vexed from the initial verbals.
The incident for me was the turning point of this contest. Saracens were struggling to find tempo due to the excellent Munster Rugby defensive setup but the incident galvanized the hosts and once JJ Hanrahan missed the resultant penalty, the momentum had swung to the home side.
It will be very interesting what EPRC and the two clubs do with respect to the matter. EPRC have open a formal investigation today. The post game was that apologies were issued immediately from Munster Rugby to Saracens but the English club are not happy and their media comments post game indicated as much.
What do Munster Rugby do with Dr. Jamie Kearns from a disciplinary standpoint? Massive error in judgement from the head medic of the club to make, there has to be knock on consequences from this.
Jamie George’s reaction will be a stick which opposition will more than happily hit him with in the weeks and months to come. An incident which has tarnished somewhat an absorbing contest yesterday.
Munster Rugby defensive setup on point
Credit where it is due. Munster Rugby defensive set yesterday was immense. Their line speed, their ability to stifle Saracens at source was so impressive to see. For sixty minutes of this contest, it was a superbly organized performance and when given opportunities with ball in hand looked dangerous.
Andrew Conway before leaving the pitch (HIA) was threatening throughout. Scannell and Farrell in particular provided some lovely attacking play and kicking into space which caused Saracens issues. The tackling was on point, cannot fault the team but the final quarter was a cruel and harsh reality of the opposition they played yesterday.
Saracens hit the two quick sucker punches
Prior to the brawl, Saracens were rattled. Their attacking game plan inconsistent given the pressure exerted by Munster Rugby. However, if you want to know why Saracens are the champions of Europe, look no further than the final quarter of this contest.
The Saracens pack platform finally got momentum, a number of scrum wins and suddenly Munster Rugby were defending deep in their own half. This setup the series of scrums leading to the Sean Maitland try.
Munster Rugby were fortunate not to have a player in the sin bin given the number of penalties awarded at that time; the pressure was increasing with each phase.
The opening try was a sublime play from Billy Vunipola. The strength to hold off four Munster Rugby players was impressive enough but then to have the delicate hands to offload superbly to Maitland into space was an incredible passage of play.
It was this subtlety that Munster Rugby lacked during these two games with Saracens. When Munster Rugby were deep in Saracen’s territory, the approach was blunt, no offloading or fade inside to create quick ball opportunity and space out wide. One out runners to smash their way over for a try. Fine margins.
Saracens prey on the tackle count and with Munster Rugby’s tackle count high heading into the final quarter, the prelude was set for the second try of the afternoon. Mako Vunipola bursting his way through the Munster Rugby defense to score. The contest was burst wide open. The result was secured.
Saracens are such a solid quality outfit. You can berate them all you want for the salary cap issues in the Gallagher Premiership but there is no doubting their outstanding squad depth and game plan execution. They kept executing even when Munster Rugby had the momentum. The final quarter cameo was devastating reminder of their capabilities.
Munster Rugby lose their heads and a loser point
15-6 but Munster Rugby were so tantalizingly close to securing a loser point. The opportunity arrived at the end of the contest and I think (hope I am wrong) this is a decision which may have far reaching consequences for Munster Rugby’s European Cup ambitions next month.
Take the points, all day long. Get out of the Allianz Park with something and regroup for the cup final fixture with Racing 92 in Paris. Who made the decision to go for the line?
Management look to deflect any responsibility for this decision in the press conference post game. It is a game time decision, players decision but surely management should have relayed to the players on the pitch to delay the decision and go for the posts. Such a key decision to get wrong.
If the decision did come from the playing group, then it is a poor decision. Wondering if Stander had confidence issues with JJ Hanrahan’s kicking off the tee? After the missed penalty at 3-6, was there a lingering doubt from Stander that Hanrahan would deliver and kick the penalty over?
In a pool that is so tight, a decision like this will be highlighted down the stretch. A point difference on the wrong side and unfortunately folks are going to jump all over that final penalty call. Great to go for it when in the ascendancy but the game had fundamentally turned in Saracen’s favor. Poor game call.
Paris or bust so!
Munster Rugby are in last chance saloon territory. The failure to take care of business at Thomond Park against Racing 92 and Saracens also meant that the side would need to win away to either Saracens or Racing 92.
With Saracens game now in the books, the attention focuses to Racing 92 in Paris. I am still confident that the side will produce a performance and Racing 92 will offer chances given their expansive style of play.
The objective is clear for Munster Rugby. A win at Racing 92 is required by hook or by crook. I sense that this pool will go down to the wire and Munster Rugby could play a big part in that drama with a win in Paris.
Hopefully by then, the injury situation will have improved and a potential cameo from Joey Carbery at ten may be the impetus required for the side to deliver that performance in Paris.
Still hope for Munster Rugby but it is most definitely backs against the wall time. If one team relish that scenario, then Munster Rugby are it. Roll on Paris and the fireworks!