Two games down and Rassie Erasmus has got an indication of the performance malfunctions which plagued Munster in recent years. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the past two fixtures which saw an encouraging win against Scarlets away to be then undermined with a narrow loss over Cardiff Blues at Musgrave Park.
The good, the bad and the injuries
Erasmus has promised players that it is a clean slate and with his decision to give the majority of the squad game time in the opening fixtures, the players cannot complain about not getting their opportunity to impress. The opening fixture embodied work rate, enthusiasm in defensive work and some splendid attacking cameos. The same level of intensity was lacking against a Cardiff Blues side who punished Munster’s slack exit strategy kicks. Two inconsistent performances; early days but there needs to be a standard for the team to implement regardless of the personnel on show.
The rookies in the squad have impressed. Goggins at thirteen has held himself superbly despite injuries to Sailli and Scannell. His defensive work has being on point, his ball carrying has being accurate, a player who will grow as the season progresses and will be improve with the likes of Earls coming back to the first team fold. O’Mahoney continues to show well on the wing along with Sweetnam who has all the skill set to make a massive impression in the side long term. Their willingness to chase kicks and their decision making with ball in hand has impressed. Sweetnam is always looking for space or a pass inside to a better placed colleague, his addition has being most welcome. O’Mahoney’s try count speaks volumes and the Limerick player will continue to improve under Erasmus’ tuition.
The half-back options is the glaring highlight of the opening fixtures. Bleyendaal’s injury concerns prevented his lineout against Cardiff Blues; a worry this early in the season. The New Zealander loves to throw the ball around but there is a risk that he sometimes looks one dimensional. Put simply; Bleyendaal needs to be fit to keep the pressure on Ian Keatley with the shock retirement of Johnny Holland from the sport. Keatley’s cameo against Cardiff was a mixed bag; does a lot of good things only to undermine it with some catastrophic errors. His kicking was at times off point; his kick exit was pounced upon by Cardiff for at least one of the tries. Keatley needs to provide assurance and game management and it was seen in the closing exchanges against Scarlets; more of the same is required from the player in the weeks to come.
The scrum-half is one that worries me and I am not even associated with the coaching backroom staff. Williams and O’Leary are vulnerabilities in the squad and was exposed last Friday night when questionable game management, lack of quality quick ball from the ruck killed Munster all night. Murray’s absence is gaping when not on the pitch for Munster, surely Erasmus is looking at his options. Neil Cronin was not deemed worthy of a contract? Fresh blood required pronto in the position.
The back row line has provided work rate, tackle count and breakdown turnovers at times. O’Donoghue looks a genuine prospect with his ball cartying, work around the breakdown and tackle count; mistakes are being made but only natural for a player who is learning. Stander, O’Donnell, O’Mahoney (Peter) and O’Donnell provide massive depth to the unit, a line which will be pivotal for the team to win matches this season. Erasmus’s experience in the line will be key as well.
The second row has being good at times; lineout has misfired in the opening fixtures but should improve as the season progresses. Foley injury is a concern and wondering if Peter O’Mahoney could be a second row option in his absence? Donnacha Ryan will be the leader of the front five; imperative that he is fit for a good chunk of the season. Cleyn looks like an intriguing signing; height and size, Munster need to execute lineout set piece to see his true worth. Marc Chisholm absence is a loss; wondering if he has played his last game for the province given the concussion issues last season?
The front row has being the surprise story of the season so far. Scrum has being strong, an area where Munster struggled last season. Cronin / Kilcoyne have pushed each other to new levels. John Ryan has played with aggression in set piece and all round game. Scannell at hooker has being prominent in open exchanges but lineout throwing is a work in progress. Injuries in this position will expose squad depth issues but encouraging signs on the line so far; coaching input evident early doors.
The injuries sustained so far this season are a massive concern. The back line has being decimated. Zebo, Scannell and Francis Sailli are big blows considering the inexperience inside and out wide. The rookies are doing well but with tougher opposition, at least two of these players are required back to the fold. A classic start to the season for the side where good points and issues have being brutally highlighted. The lack of half-back options is the core issue and it is up to Munster coaching and scouting network to identify alternatives. Newport and Edinburgh fixtures could define what season Munster will have. The Red Army holds its breathe.