The tenth round of games in this season’s Guinness Pro 12 competition and gaps and trends are starting to emerge among the competing teams. Hawkeye Sidekick reviews the action and wonders if Munster will be even playing European Cup rugby next season.
A game which encapsulated Munster’s season in eighty minutes. A performance full of effort and endeavor was undermined consistently by poor handling, poor game management and the set piece where the Munster pack were blown away in all facets of play.
The 25,000 crowd at Thomond Park were just in their seats when Garry Ringrose announced himself to the game and setup the first try for the visitors. The invention, the pace, the awareness of Ringrose to pick out his supporting runner Nacewa. The run was sensational but exposed Munster’s inability to defend the outside channels throughout this contest.
Once Ringrose went outside Jack O’Donoghue, the warning signs were issued in the Thomond Park stands. Ringrose spotting Nacewa passed and the New Zealander was never going to miss the opportunity from eight meters. Munster hardly laid a hand on either Leinster player and so set the tone for the rest of the contest.
Leinster were seven points up and sensed Munster fragility and panic in the ranks. Munster duly conceding another soft penalty which Ian Madigan duly punished. The penalty kick success compounded further by an inexplicable penalty miss from Munster rookie Rory Scannell who shanked from fifteen meters straight in front of the posts before the visitors went ten points up.
Leinster were aided by a strong breeze at their backs and controlled first half proceedings. However, Munster hanging into the contest more due to work rate and fight got a lifeline when Robin Copeland sneaked in from close range after repeated Munster’s attacks on the Leinster line just before the break. Copeland spotted the gap as Leinster looked for an obstruction call that was never going to happen. Scannell slotting the conversion to make it 10-7 at the break.
Munster now had the elements at their backs but the second half was a horror show and highlighted several issues in the team. Both back and forward units misfired horribly.
Leinster’s pack won the battle hands down, dominated the scrum and the breakdown at times was a no contest where Sean O’Brien (back from injury) reveled winning at least six turnovers. O’Brien was ably assisted by Dominic Ryan who had a monster game in terms of tackle count and ball carries. Heaslip was nullified to a certain extent by his opposite number CJ Stander who tried to win the game for Munster on his own. His ball carries, tackling was not enough as several Munster players around him shirked the work rate and responsibility particularly in the last quarter. The Munster pack struggled in line-out and scrum set piece and the once feared Munster pack is no longer a discernible force in European Rugby.
The pack struggles were compounded by a lethargic, disorganized half-back and back line performance. Bleyendaal at ten was provided with the opportunity to stake the claim on the jersey and it will be safe to assume that the New Zealander may have played his last game for the province. No game management, no leadership to those around him and forced the likes of Earls and Scannell to keep up the slack. Bleyendaal’s reluctance to kick the ball made Munster’s attack look predictably one dimensional.
The questions on why Scannell was asked to kick instead of the experienced New Zealander will rage on for days to come. Bleyendaal is a bust signing and the decision of Foley to gamble on Keatley / Bleyendaal has enormously backfired. You can see why Keatley’s form has dipped this season, no serious competition for the ten jersey and the problems here have spread to the rest of the back line.
The lack of trust in the Munster back line was clearly apparent last night. Saaili does not trust his colleagues around him, constantly looking to bust through gaps and not look to pass to a colleague in a better position, focusing on offloading risky passes to colleagues under pressure to get to the New Zealander. Perhaps, Sailli has a better skill set than his colleagues but the lack of trust and support running lines by the back line is damning at this time. Brian Walsh as the back line coach is under pressure to rectify the situation. Keith Earls looked dangerous with ball in hand and when he went off injured, Rory Scannell took up the mantle but you never got a sense that Munster could break a organized Leinster defense. Zebo struck a forlorn figure.
Leinster were solid throughout and absorbed with ease what Munster threw at them last night. Several Munster knockons and several turnover balls from the breakdown area told its own story and Leinster put the tie to bed with two tries. McGrath scoring from close range after Madigan spotted big space out wide for Nacewa to collect a cross-field kick. The game was over as a contest and the icing on the cake was right on full time whistle when Sailli decided to throw a stamp addressed envelope to Ambrosino only for Kirchener to intercept and run the length of the pitch to score under the sticks. Madigan converted and the final whistle blew. In truth, the majority of Thomond Park had hit the exit minutes before such is the reaction to the team at present.
Leinster revive their season and should be looking forward to a positive Pro 12 campaign. The emergence of Van den Flier and Ringrose are massive positives. This is in stark contrast to Munster who are headed in the opposite direction. Comprehensively exposed in game plan, team selection Munster are looking at the grim possibility of not being in European Cup next season. Sixth place in the table at present and with a daunting trip to Kingspan at the weekend, Munster could conceivably be in eighth spot come the end of the festive period.
Foley’s ambitions to extend his tenure are in tatters. Brian Walsh could be culled in the coaching department. The lack of a consistent reliable number ten is now coming home to roost. Munster are in dire straits and there are no quick fixes in sight. 25,000 crowds in Thomond Park could be a thing of the past and I suspect that several current Munster players in the ranks may be looking at their options to play in England or France such is the abyss in the camp. IRFU should be worried. Munster are sinking without trace.