MUNSTER travelling to Gloucester for a Heineken Cup tie is nothing new, but the run-up to this one is unique all the same.
A win for Munster in Kingsholm tonight will put quarter-final qualification directly in their grasp. A loss will put “do or die” all over next week’s sold-out game against Exeter in even larger letters than it is now.
The key to Munster’s performance against Gloucester will be the effectiveness of their attacking structure. Gloucester defend, and attack, a lot like Connacht, so a duplication of last Saturday’s performance will go a long way to getting what they want in this game.
Munster’s attacking performance and clinicial finishing was built off the back of some excellent phase play, tactical kicking, lineout work, mauling and heavy ball carrying. Those fundamentals were the core that the win was built on.
After Connacht’s mugged first try, Munster started working their ball carrying options much better, especially off centre-field position.
First of all, there was an excellent performance from Niall Scannell and the other heavy midfield carriers all night. His initial carry - and others like it - was good but pick up and drive for an extra 5m gave Munster some extra time to align their attack and allow Mathewson to read the options.
On many occasions, Mathewson could go right, to Carbery and most of the aligned backs with Farrell and Goggin threatening. Or he can go left, to a pod of heavy ball carriers. Both options worked because they both have a viable threat. Goggin and Farrell are stacked on the openside with Botha and Kleyn as shorter range options.
Munster’s maul had been so effective that Connacht rarely counter-jumped - Munster will need to make sure that they ensure Mostert is forced into the same thought process as he is as good a counter-jumper as there is in the Gallagher Premiership.
Even when they waited on the floor, Munster were still driving through Connacht for big gains and that made all the difference in attack. Munster offloaded cleverly through Earls to O’Donnell off one powerful maul and, off the resulting ruck, we went to our screenplays.
From there, Munster worked a centre-field position and, after a few phases, brought out a set play that lead to the third.
Earls attacked the previous point of the ruck and offloaded to Farrell, who offloaded to Wootton. This looks like open offloading, but I don’t think it is. This is Munster working a set play. The previous ruck point is the target of the attack against the grain from Earls, but Carbery has to sell the attack is on the right side.
Archer ran a blocking route – he turned and shunted on Carbery’s inside shoulder – for the inside B/C defenders so that Earls could attack the point of the ruck to find support runners flying into disrupted space. That created the hole for Farrell to put Wootton away and, off that linebreak, find Beirne surging onto the ball.
Mathewson hit Beirne perfectly and from that field position, Mathewson floated the ball across to Goggin for the easy finish but this was the product of excellent attacking thought – but in-game and pre-game.
Gloucester in Kingsholm will be another story again but Munster’s attacking fundamentals can hurt the Lions here.
Defending against Gloucester’s attack is a question of managing space and knowing when they are going to head to the second layer. The fitness of Cipriani will be the key element for them in this game. When he plays, they are most dangerous off the lineout or just after, where they have a series of interesting plays that depend on a big initial hit off quick ball and then running deep support lines on the second phase to take advantage of any opportunities garnered in disrupted space.
The biggest way that Glasgow like to do this is off the lineout. Quick ball off the front or middle of the lineout is Connacht’s primary avenue attack off the lineout, with other schemes based off maul feints and short driven mauls.
If Munster can attack their breakdown and, crucially, maintain their own 98% plus retention rate at their own breakdown, a win beckons.