It is great to be back watching the Guinness Pro14 after a five month hiatus. Last night, Leinster Rugby and Munster Rugby dusted off the cobwebs and gave a stirring fixture which the hosts won to preserve their 100% unbeaten record in the league 27-25.
For Munster Rugby, another loss to the old enemy but plenty of positives for Johann van Graan and management to take away from the game. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the positives and negatives for Munster Rugby after this fixture.
The game last night was supposed to see a cleaner ruck area but it was chaotic at best from both sides. Yes, Andrew Brace was sharp to ping anyone not releasing the ball and CJ Stander was rewarded with three breakdown steals, phenomenal work from the Munster Rugby back row.
We still had players jumping in, coming from offside positions on both sides. The officiating is a work in progress with the ruck laws. I get that but the touch judges need to assist the man in the middle more on these breakdowns.
The intention of the ruck laws were to reduce the numbers entering the ruck area and to reward the opposition for improved tackle and ruck technique. Last night shows that the ruck laws are still every much a work in progress.
RG Synman injury
The pregame talk was on the debuts for Munster Rugby. RG Synman was supposed to provide added physicality to the pack but the South African forward only lasted seven minutes after being dropped on a line out.
The knee injury is serious according to Munster Rugby management, ligament or ACL injury could be the diagnosis which means a long spell on the sidelines.
A huge disappointment for the player and the team but thankfully Tadhg Beirne is nearing a return and we also have the promising Thomas Ahern who could now get his opportunity after impressing with the Ireland U20’s at the start of the calendar year. The big negative from last night for Munster Rugby no question. Let’s hope the prognosis is decent in the coming days for the player.
Shane Daly emerges as a full back contender
The full back position battle has got a lot more interesting. Mike Haley was the keeper of the jersey during the season until the five month hiatus.
In the meantime, we have seen the arrival of promising prospect Matt Gallagher who can across the back line from Saracens during the summer.
Last night was a superb opportunity for Shane Daly to state his case for full back inclusion and the Cork native did not disappointing with a composed defensive display and his appetite to identify Leinster defensive gaps from deep was really impressive. Daly has put his hand up for inclusion, his aerial ability to catch ball was good. A player who has done himself no harm at all in this opening fixture. Haley and Gallagher have competition for the full back jersey.
Larkham attacking game plan starting to emerge
The evolving Munster Rugby game plan was seen at certain stages last night. Yes, we had the drive up the middle approach but at different stages, we saw some nuanced game plays from JJ Hanrahan in the ten pocket.
The Kerry native looked to change the point of attack when he could, some passes did not stick to Chris Farrell who was making superb running lines all night (helped by the decoy running of Damian de Allende). There was also a kick to the touchline which nearly got Keith Earls away. The ingenuity and ability to change the attacking game plan has to be seen as a positive.
The scrum half performances from Munster Rugby were really good. Murray was composed throughout, tackle count high and his box kicking gave Jordan Larmour plenty to think about as Leinster Rugby colleagues looked to shield Larmour at every given opportunity.
The passing from the ruck was good but when Craig Casey came on, the pace and tempo of Munster’s play accelerated from the ruck and forced Leinster Rugby to scramble defensively. The scrum half combination (60 / 20) has the potential to break opposition teams. Casey is a player to watch out for.
Second row depth chart looks impressive
The fact that RG Synman came off so early was bad enough but then Jean Kleyn was then forced off with the neck injury in the second half was rotten bad luck for the team and a reshuffle ensued. As mentioned, it is an opportunity for the Thomas Ahern to take his opportunity if presented with the first team now if Synman’s injury is as bad as first feared.
Kleyn’s neck injury will be monitored, hopefully it is not too serious as the player upon his introduction was looking to get involved in attacking and defensive play. His ability to carry ball is undoubted. The depth chart at second row is looking strong right now. Kleyn has being issued the challenge with the Synman arrival and with Billy Holland continuing to play excellent rugby, the competition for second row spots is a welcome question for van Graan to answer.
Three quarter partnership looks genuinely exciting
I am liking this three quarter partnership between de Allende and Farrell. There was some on the social media platforms who thought Damian de Allende was anonymous but obviously they did not see the outstanding decoy running and defensive work that the South African international put in during the contest.
An intelligent ball carrier, he looked for the maximum yardage gain per carry. His decoy runs meant that Leinster Rugby defensive line was opened more for Chris Farrell to impress. de Allende also showed his physicality throughout with some tough tackles and superb defensive support play when Leinster Rugby had broken the gain line.
Yes, there was the Sexton off the ball incident which ultimately led to a try concession but it shows the appetite that the player has for the club to succeed. A superb signing in the mold of Halstead, Taute who were uncompromising ball carrier and defensive rocks. Munster Rugby have found one here. Exciting times ahead for the side with this guy in the ranks!
Hanrahan progresses but Carbery shadow still looms large
This is a tricky time for JJ Hanrahan. The news that Joey Carbery will be out of action for an indefinite period means that the spotlight is firmly on the Kerry man to deliver in the ten jersey.
To be fair to Hanrahan, he was looking to adopt the Larkham attacking game plan at any given opportunity and his kicking off the tee was superb up until the last kick to level the contest. A kick which went wide and let Leinster Rugby off the hook.
I would love to see Hanrahan be the game winner for Munster Rugby. He has had opportunities against Racing 92 and now this against Leinster Rugby to provide a hallmark stamp that he is the out-half for this team but those near miss opportunities will inevitably raise questions on whether a certain player on the sidelines would have nailed those kicks.
This is a key few months now for Hanrahan, a career with huge promise when he burst on the scene went stagnant in England before returning back to his native province. I would like to see Hanrahan become more prominent as a leader in this side. This is his time and Munster Rugby need him to deliver.
With the playoffs fast approaching and presumably another date with Leinster Rugby to come, Hanrahan must be the key man for Munster Rugby during the end of season push for league honors. Otherwise, with exciting prospects in Healy, Crowley and Rory Scannell in the ranks; management may look further at their options if Joey Carbery is not ready this year.
It was a great start to the Guinness Pro14 resumption. The fact that we are seeing games is a positive. Given Munster Rugby had only eight minutes of physical contact in the lead up to this contest, the side should look with optimism heading down the end of season run-in.