The final whistle at Kingspan Stadium last night spoke volumes as to the morale within the Ulster or Munster Rugby camps. For the hosts, it was yet more proof that the Dan McFarland era gathers even more positive momentum. For the visitors, despondency and rueful impressions from both management and playing staff. Hawkeye Sidekick tries to dissect the carnage from this Munster Rugby performance.
Thou Art the collision!
Rugby Union is a magnificent game when played with speed, precision and execution. A key component is the ability to win the gain line battle; collisions must be won and with it attacking ball platform.
Ulster Rugby exposed Munster Rugby in this department for the majority of the contest and none more so seen than the performance of Stuart McCloskey whose ball carrying had Carbery, Scannell and Arnold scrambling at various intervals. Chris Farrell will return next week but by god, a powerful three quarter ball carrier was seen to full effect last night.
For a pack, it is a wonderful sight to see your 12 / 13 make the hard yards forcing your opponent into a hasty retreat. Munster Rugby were second best in the physicality stakes last night. It is very hard to win a contest if you consistently lose the 50/50 battles across the pitch.
Ring rust in abundance
Prior to the contest, I was expecting some ring rust in the Munster Rugby performance. The two week sabbatical for the senior players of the squad was always going to see some miscues in this fixture. We have to acknowledge that a trip to Ulster Rugby is a tough assignment at the best of times but the lack of cohesion in this Munster Rugby performance was pretty astonishing.
The sight of Peter O’Mahony tackling a player without the ball under his own posts; penalized creating more pressure. The sight of a frustrated Keith Earls launching himself into a ruck from the side typified the night. Just not accurate enough and the Ulster Rugby side who came into this contest in good form and confidence were not going to leave Munster Rugby off the hook.
Attacking mindset confused / muddled
The attacking game plan evolution from Munster Rugby is a work in progress this season. The last two weeks have been tough viewing though. Leinster Rugby nullified the attacking intent with well organized and organized defensive structure last weekend; the one off runners easily negated and then were patient when Munster Rugby attempted to go side to side in the hope of identifying a gain line break. Ulster Rugby were much the same as Leinster Rugby for the majority of this contest; patient in defensive reps until the opportunity to pounce on an exposed ball carrier.
Munster Rugby scored two tries last night with the opening score from Shane Daly a lovely attacking setup from Conor Murray but there is massive issues with the player’s confidence in the system. Players look in two minds what to do with ball in hand; confidence has being eroded in recent weeks and it is key for Larkham and van Graan to reflect and adjust if necessary the attacking game plan.
Rea’s try last night for Ulster Rugby is what Munster Rugby are looking to aspire to; inventive passing and running lines creating gain line breaks to score tries. Munster Rugby on the other hand attempting to attack well behind the gain line, side to side not committing any defensive players to the tackle.
Larkham’s attacking game plan is ambitious. Munster Rugby have seen McGahan and Penney look to adopt a similar attacking mindset and it has not worked. Munster Rugby need to evolve the attacking game plan but may it be that the current playing squad does not have the skill set to execute what is being asked of them by the coaching staff?
Breakdown / Ruck Ball Presentation
For this attacking game plan to succeed, the breakdown and ruck ball delivery must be focused on and improved upon. How many times do we see Conor Murray struggle to get the ball out of the ruck? The clear out work is inconsistent and the inability of the ball carrier to present the ball is a massive issue right now. The slow ball to Murray is key here. You can talk about how Murray is distributing the ball but the ruck area is a mess right now for Munster Rugby and needs urgent maintenance quickly.
The scrum again held its own. Positive cameos from Knox a highlight against esteemed opposition last night. The line out platform is a no show right now and opposition teams know as much, attacking it at every opportunity.
Donnacha Ryan again will disrupt next weekend unless Munster Rugby can call an efficient set piece keeping Ryan and Racing 92 off balance. The hesitation in calls, the slow line out throws and formations are fueling the misreads currently and unfortunately the attacking maul threat has diminished due to these issues.
The back row last night were routed; no other way of describing it. Timoney dominated Botha. O’Donoghue battled hard but was under pressure throughout like O’Mahony. Stander comes back in next week but the breakdown and ball carrying of the back row cannot be as bad as this week.
Feisty week beckons!
The good news for Munster Rugby is that it surely cannot get any worse in Paris next weekend. 38-17 loss will have the desired effect; a brutally honest discussion between management and players is required. The focus is set. Paris and Racing 92 is looming large.
The level of performance last night is not what Munster Rugby are noted for. The management now are the vital cog; they need to evolve, adjust the game plan in the next few weeks to eek out performances. Training hopefully will have an edge and the squad selection must go with form rather than reputation.
I recall weeks before Munster Rugby European Cup fixtures when a result has being disastrous (2008: Munster 11-37 Ulster) and the following week, Munster Rugby delivered the goods in Europe.
This European Cup campaign is down on the player group; the new coaches are only in the door. It is imperative that the head coach / management, senior players and playing group are in sync this week. van Graan must step up and provide the direction required here. A team needs leadership and pragmatism to evolve and adjust.
Otherwise, the season could spiral out of control quite quickly. A patchy spell in the season, Munster Rugby need to respond and deliver a performance in Paris. Let us see what the side are made of!