Hawkeye Sidekick

Munster Rugby 19-13 Castres

When it’s not always raining there’ll be days like this

When there’s no one complaining there’ll be days like this

When everything falls into place like the flick of a switch

Well my mama told me there’ll be days like this

Days like this by Van Morrison

As I watched the rerun (yes I did) yesterday of the 19-13 Munster Rugby win over Castres, these lyrics came into my mind. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on a game which never caught fire.

Good start to Heineken Champions Cup continues

If you asked Munster Rugby before the start of the Heineken Champions Cup campaign that they would have nine points on the board after two games, sitting in a good position to advance to the knockout stages of the tournament, it would be considered a good return given the pandemic quarantine issues.

The atmosphere in Thomond Park was excellent before kickoff. The lowering of the floodlights creating an unique atmosphere. It was all set for a good contest but it never materialized. The fans as usual wanted to participate, encourage the side to success.

The best complement that I can give Castres on the night was the eerie silence of the home crowd during the contest. A strange occurrence when you consider that this is an European Cup fixture in Thomond Park. The last Saturday before Christmas. The place should have been buzzing from minute one. It never happened.

Munster Rugby needed to be the team to set the pack platform and create a fast tempo as Castres went to defensive mode early. The scrum went well early. Healy torpedoing kicks deep into Castres territory and putting points on the board but there were clear cohesion issues with ball in hand from minute one. The three quarters looking to create but ambitious offloads did not stick. Castres were able to settle into the contest. An arm wrestle formed quite early.

Misfiring Munster Rugby

Why the misfire from Munster Rugby? I don’t care what organization you are working in. If your team boss tells you before a marquee event that they are off for a new job, the group reporting into this individual will be taken a back by the news. They will be distracted from the job at hand. There was a lack of focus in this performance. You can call it ring rust as a reason but there was more to it than just that.

The timing of Johann van Graan’s departure to Bath Rugby was truly awful. Bath Rugby anxious to get the head coach news out to social media but there was a time (not too long ago) when a prospective club would go to the club currently employing that head coach and decide when the news of the role change would take place. The Bath Rugby news rumbled Munster Rugby last week.

Current marquee players with emotive statements of appreciation for their head coach was all well and good but unfortunately, focus was lost in matchday preparation. The ruck area was a mess throughout. The sight of Campbell and Murray looking to clear Castres players without any support was a striking image during this fixture in the third quarter. Accuracy issues. Distraction within the group on this news has to be taken into account.

Munster Rugby were anxious with ball in hand thereafter with no breakthrough in sight. It all got a bit rushed and frenzied. The Keith Earls pass, nearly intercepted by Castres in the second half was a classic example of the anxiety in the Munster Rugby attacking play. Uncertainty in the attacking game plan high after de Allende’s try was chalked off.

Any positives from Munster Rugby?

Ben Healy, Tadhg Beirne and Patrick Campbell. Healy’s kicking off the tee is scarily good, the distance he gets from his kicks is a real attacking weapon for the side.

Healy did produce a number of good passing phases to allow his back three into the game but it was the exception not the rule as the slow ball from ruck time did not either Murray or Healy to orchestrate the attacking game plan fully.

Cue the ambitious offloads from de Allende and Farrell (particularly) to make things happen. I felt so sorry for Murray on the night. The ball at ruck time was a mess, no go forward ball to work with. Castres fast defensive line speed causing further issues.

Patrick Campbell again had a solid performance at full back. He has lovely balance and his contributions hitting the line were excellent, some lovely kicks in behind creating uncertainty in the Castres defensive unit.

Tadhg Beirne had another excellent outing as well. His work at the breakdown really strong and was a constant thorn in Castres’ ability to create with quick ruck ball. The complete player for Munster Rugby, he leads by example in the front five.

Areas for improvement?

Lineout time is a Russian roulette at times particularly when key attacking opportunities are presented. The misfire in the opening period when Scannell decided to go down the line is now a trademark issue trait. The unit needs to be better in these situations, secure possession and build the phases. Opposition need to work hard defensively. Castres were let off the hook.

The hooker position is wide open. Scott Buckley’s performance against Wasps has set the standard. Niall Scannell and Diarmuid Barron have to elevate their performances in open play yet continue to execute the lineout set piece to a high level. The coaching ticket need to make the hard calls on player form now.

The last quarter. The bench impact was minimal apart from Jack Crowley who provided some good cameos when given the ball. Discipline and fatigue crept into the last twenty minutes. Castres to their credit never gave up and scored ten points to finish off the contest. Munster Rugby pinged in the breakdown and maul time.

Looking ahead

I would like to see Jason Jenkins start significant minutes against Leinster Rugby. We have heard plenty about the player, his cameo off the bench was fine but we need to see his undoubted physicality from minute one. Wycherley and Ahern also will look to impress as well in the second row in the coming weeks.

Jean Kleyn is a complete workhorse, leaves it out on the pitch every time but Jenkins was a noted signing, time to see the potential signed here. Jack O’Donoghue as a second row option is one worth exploring too. O’Donoghue has the physicality and skill set to play this position long term.

What Castres did last weekend was what Exeter Chiefs did at Thomond Park a couple of years ago? Front five controlled phases coupled with a good exit strategy. Munster Rugby in the pack unable to effect this trend from early doors. Video analysis and how to improve when faced with this scenario is required. Front five dominance is key when you get to the business end of a season or facing top class sides.

The derby games to Leinster Rugby, Connacht Rugby and Ulster Rugby will focus minds quickly. The pack platform issues of last weekend will need to be addressed. If they can be, other attacking elements will click into place. An interesting couple of weeks lie ahead for Munster Rugby.

We will move on from this Castres game, it will not be in the season highlight reel but the lessons of last weekend must be duly noted.