BEFORE we get down to the nuts and bolts of this industrious and very welcome win by Munster, I just want to ask one question.
Does anyone else get really annoyed when a penalty is won at scrum time or a turnover at the breakdown, and before you know it all the backs run in congratulating their fellow players as if they’ve just discovered the formula of how to turn water into wine?
It’s just a job that forwards do and there really isn’t any need to celebrate it with such enthusiasm. All that kind of stuff should be kept for after the game and confined to the dressing room. Before we know it, players will be taking off their jerseys and running into the crowd when they score a try or kick a penalty.
Right, rant over and back to the important stuff.
In no way shape or form did this game between Connacht and Munster come within an arse’s roar of the 96-point extravaganza that Leinster and Ulster produced. Yet it was a win that Munster welcomed with open arms.
To beat Connacht in their own back garden is never an easy task. And to do it when so many of your international stars are rested is something that Johann van Graan can feel very satisfied about.
Connacht might well have lacked the kind of passion and intensity we have become accustomed to witnessing in the bitterly cold and drab settings of the Sportsground. However, Munster smothered Bundee Aki every time he got the ball and didn’t allow the Connacht forwards dictate the tempo at the breakdown.
The loss of young Gavin Coombes after only nine minutes of play was very disappointing for the former Bandon Grammar student but it meant Jack O’Donoghue was launched from the bench.
Coombes (22) is very highly rated and has a bright future ahead of him. His time will come again soon.
JJ Hanrahan might have been awarded the Man of the Match, and he did have a fine game, but O’Donaghue is now the best backrow Munster have. He’d a major role in disrupting everything Connacht tried to implement.
As a ball carrier, he offers everything that CJ Stander brings to the party. He is just as athletic and nimble as Peter O’Mahony at line-out time and knows how to navigate the all-important boundaries that make a good flanker, a great one. In other words, he is good at bending the rules and getting away with it.
If I am to be critical, Munster deviated from how they played against Saracens and reverted to kicking away possession on far too many occasions.
You may argue the point that Munster won the game but that style doesn’t work in the Champions Cup and won’t against Leinster either.
Connacht are like the Munster of old and rely on their forwards and out-half to put them in areas of the field where they can score. It was only when Jack Carty replaced Conor Fitzgerald they got any kind of worthwhile momentum.
The return of Dave Kilcoyne after a lengthy lay off following the World Cup is almost as important as the win for Munster.
Not since the retirement of Marcus Horan have Munster had a prop who can carry the ball with pace and agility. Kilcoyne is also not afraid of the physical confrontations and in a couple of weeks when Munster’s do or die Champions Cup game against Racing 92 comes calling, Kilcoyne will play a vital part in van Graan’s master plan.
Full back Shane Daly certainly wasn’t afraid to put his body on the line when the ball was descending from the cold crisp Galway sky. Daly (23) might not have the awareness that time has afforded Mike Haley, but like young Coombes, age is on his side.
I must mention Billy Holland.
At the tender age of 34, Holland offered just as much, if not more than Jean Kleyn or Quinn Roux did on the night and when you consider Kleyn and Roux are both included in Andy Farrell’s Irish squad, you have to question why didn’t Holland receive more recognition in the green jersey. Maybe it’s because he wasn’t born in South Africa?
Anyhow, his engine is still running as good as it did 10 years ago and his contribution is that of a 24-year=old, not someone who has over 220 caps to his name.
The extended run that Hanrahan is having in the all-important 10 jersey seems to be really helping him settle and his understanding of what he needs to do is becoming clearer with every minute he plays. Joey Carbery might well be on the verge of his come back however, Hanrahan is certainly in the driving seat at this moment and the confidence he was lacking is very quickly becoming a thing of the past. The jersey is his too loose for now.
This win was a very welcome early Xmas present for van Graan and his coaching ticket, but he like all the rest of us in the land of red, would happily exchange it for a victory next week against our nearest and dearest Leinster.
The mega-machine that Leinster rugby has become is something that we all have no choice but to sit back and admire. Fortunately for Ireland and unfortunately for everyone else it seems to be only getting stronger and it will take one hell of a performance to halt its advances.
Only a fool would bet on Munster winning this game, and that is why exactly you should do so, because there is nothing more dangerous than a Munster team that are given no hope.