Hawkeye Sidekick

The time is now

Key weekends for Munster Rugby and Connacht Ruby

As I write this blog, my mind is drawn to the Moloko track ‘The time is now’. It is the penultimate round of the Heineken Champions Cup pool stage for Munster Rugby and Connacht Rugby.

The time is now to win and setup an exciting pool finale. Defeat and the final round of this competition will be a non-event. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at Munster and Connacht’s plight ahead of crunch weekend fixtures.

Munster Rugby face Racing 92 examination

Folks are calling it a ‘season defining’ game for Munster Rugby but what I am looking for from Munster Rugby this weekend. A performance which is balanced in game plan execution and set piece.

It is all about performance for me this weekend. Last week fell well short of the standards that Munster Rugby hold themselves. The lack of physicality in collisions and breakdown work stood out and needs to be significantly improved.

Racing 92’s team selection is an interesting one. No Donnacha Ryan which is a surprise considering his disruption of Munster Rugby set piece ball in recent fixtures.

A glimmer of hope for a Munster Rugby set piece which has not provided reliable primary ball possession to launch maul attacks in this tourney so far.

Racing 92 side is stacked with talent don’t get me wrong but Machenaud for me starts at scrum-half and has caused Murray issues in the past. I expect Murray to rise to the occasion tomorrow but his back row must be on it in ruck clear outs and breakdown work.

Munster Rugby’s injury list has being well documented in recent days. JJ Hanrahan has recovered sufficiently to start at ten but concerns are still there when the head coach only rates the player ’50/50′ during pregame media conferences.

Do not be surprised if Rory Scannell slots into the ten jersey at some point on Sunday. The pack is as expected. Holland partners Kleyn in the second row; hopefully solid line out calls from the start to establish a platform in the contest.

The back line will relish the 4G pitch surroundings but it is up to the three quarters to provide the physicality and line break capability to release Earls, Conway and Haley in open play.

Stuart McCloskey’s performance last weekend for Ulster Rugby against Munster Rugby was a stirring reminder of how expansive a side can be when a three quarter is making gain line yards.

This Ulster Rugby loss will have focused the minds in the Munster Rugby camp. The camp have being written off in the general media quarters. Munster Rugby have massive familiarity of this Racing 92 side. They will be pumped up for this occasion no question. If not, then Racing 92 could deliver an eye catching attacking masterclass.

Wayne Barnes officiating of the breakdown will be interesting early doors. Will he allow teams to compete? The lack of offside in the Thomond Park fixture will not be tolerated by Barnes in this fixture. Discipline could be massively key and it is something that Munster Rugby would hone in on after last weekend.

Racing 92 will enter the game as favorites but I sense that for Munster Rugby, this is a fixture to right a few wrongs again. The side ethos has being muddled in recent weeks; the mix between physicality and attacking space is a work in progress. Pick your moments to launch attacks from deep but make sure the exit strategy is on point!

This will go down to the wire. I have a sneaky feeling that Munster Rugby will pull one out of the bag here. Racing 92 will look to start strong but if Munster Rugby can absorb the early salvos, the result is possible.

The absence of Donnacha Ryan is huge; expecting the Munster Rugby pack to get more of a platform in this fixture than in Thomond Park. If Munster Rugby were to win, what a pool finale we would have next weekend!

Connacht Rugby face the elements and Toulouse!

I hear the wind coming from Galway Bay already. The incessant rain is coming. It is going to be a treacherous game to throw the ball around at the Sportsground tomorrow for both Connacht Rugby and Toulouse.

Connacht Rugby were hit by a ruthlessly efficient performance from Leinster Rugby last weekend. The tempo and attacking play was too much for an injury ravaged Connacht Rugby who were counting the cost of the game with the injuries to the Fitzgerald brothers.

The good news is that some front line players are back for Connacht Rugby. Bundee and Robb in three quarters will carry endless ball but the concern is in the pack where the set piece was exposed last weekend.

Toulouse will look to dissect the set piece in testing conditions and if they can become expansive in the final quarter. They have a great balance to their side with youth at the heart of it. Dupont and Holmes are sensational.

I think it is the end of the road for Connacht Rugby here. The Toulouse pack is loaded with talent. Kaino, Tekori and Tolofua will lead by example and secure a road trip victory to officially secure a last eight berth.