January isn't the time for moral victories as Munster's ruthlessness proved

January isn't the time for moral victories as Munster's ruthlessness proved
Keith Earls and Peter O'Mahony celebrate as Rory Scannell scores. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

IN the end, it was a demolition job. Five bonus points on the road, a win away in England, top of the pool by eight and looking good while doing it.

In January, you take wins however they come — ugly, handsome, short, tall. This isn’t the time of year for moral victories.

Only the ones with four points or more will do and everything else can go take a walk.

This is the time of the season where goodwill for all men goes out with the brown, shedding remains of the Christmas tree.

January is a time for broken resolutions, binging on box sets until your eyeballs feel like puking and nailing down your spot in the Heineken Cup knockouts.

So, with an expectation for a nailbiter weighing heavy on me, you can imagine my surprise when Joey Carbery raced away for the Gloucester try line in the 67th minute with the kind of pace that makes the scoreboard operator throw on the extra seven points before he’s even entered the 22.

There was no catching him.

That same scoreboard operator may as well have added the extra conversion points too because Joey Carbery was nailing everything that looked like a ball on a tee in Kingsholm on Friday night.

You could have put a ball on a tee and asked Joey Carbery to kick the ball into the face of the Ark of the Covenant and he’d have somehow managed to (a) find it and (b) donk that golden box straight on the lid without any fuss. So a kick under the posts wasn’t a problem.

That try put Munster 26 points clear with just about 10 minutes to play. Gloucester looked a little shell shocked under their own posts after that.

Munster's Joey Carbery scores his second try. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Munster's Joey Carbery scores his second try. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

And with good reason. They hadn’t even played badly. But when you look at their two tries you realise where the game got away from them.

It took Gloucester 10 phases to score from 5m out for their second try. It took them thirty-five phases on the 5m line and inside it to score their first try on 50 minutes.

They just had to work way, way too hard for their scores against a Munster defence that was meaner than Scrooge McDuck having a liquidity crisis during an economic depression. It wasn’t just that Munster were making their tackles - and they were - it was the organisation after the ruck that made Gloucester’s attacking platform almost impossible to get going.

Gloucester, like Connacht, like to play with a second layer in attack so that Cirpiani can play off corners and disrupted space and bring his passing and running game into play.

That’s the type of structure that needs rash decisions at the edge of the defence but Munster never bit into that layer.

They let them play behind the gain line and then smashed everything that twitched on the gainline.

Gloucester made 126 carries but only made 206m - just about 1.6m per carry. Munster, on the other hand, made 120 carries for 365m - a return of roughly 3m per carry.

It’s simple maths that tells a part of the story only but it does give you an idea of how this game was won. Munster were massively effective with the ball in hand, Gloucester were not.

But that doesn’t explain a 20+ point win.

For me, the real statement was Gloucester’s first try. It took them the bones of five minutes and thirty-five phases to make 6m of ground.

They scored in the end but Munster will have taken as much from their try as Gloucester did. Even Joey Carbery’s personal haul of 26 points (the margin of victory, incidentally) doesn’t quite come close to that moment, as good as it was.

This was a Munster side playing incredibly effective rugby when they worked their way into a position to strike. Carbery’s try - Munster’s first - came off the back of two monster carries from CJ Stander and Chris Farrell.

That created the space for Carbery to waltz under the posts for his try. A few minutes later, more phase pressure earned a 43m penalty that Carbery nailed too.

Munster’s second, right at the stroke of halftime, came from attacking patience. Munster carried hard through the phases, retained the ball and saw Rory Scannell skate home off the back of a Joey Carbery pass. Just like that, Munster were 17 points clear and Gloucester were rattled.

Whatever about Leeds and Derby County, Munster were playing like they were hiding in Gloucester’s meeting room all week.

Everywhere Gloucester moved, Munster were there. The scrum was a nightmare for them, the lineout had Munster hands on almost every throw to the point that they started lobbing any ball that wasn’t 5m out to the tail to avoid the contest.

Munster scored two more tries in the second and put themselves into the best possible position with Exeter on the horizon.

Just one more game to book a quarter-final spot and if they play like this again, they’ll nail it with bells on.

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