Analysis: David Corkery on why the Munster game plan can be exposed

Poor showing against Connacht and loss away to Ospreys raises huge questions again about the Reds' prospects this season
Analysis: David Corkery on why the Munster game plan can be exposed

The Munster forwards during a break in play away to Ospreys. Picture: INPHO/Ashley Crowden

THEY should have lost last week against Connacht, but this first defeat of the season for Munster against a very average Ospreys side should set the alarm bells ringing loud and clear.

Without wanting to run the risk of repeating myself, Munster’s game plan is as confusing as it is destitute of inventiveness. Pointing the finger of blame on the coaching team seems like the easy option but Johann van Graan, Stephen Larkham and Graham Rowntree must stand front and centre on this occasion and explain to us why their squad of very talented players look as if they were just introduced to the sport a few months ago.

I know it can be very easy to be negative when a side’s not playing well, then again if you accept mediocrity from a side with Munster’s pedigree and ambitions you are not being honest with your true opinion and comprehension of the game.

With five minutes remaining in this game and Munster trailing by two scores, they win good, clean ball from a line-out and what do they do? You probably guessed it, they kick it back to the Osprey’s who gather it comfortably and use the possession to eat further into the remaining seconds of the contest.

Now, I am fully cognisant that my neanderthal understanding of backs play is probably not where it needs to be however, when you are chasing a game and the clock is against you, the most important thing that you need is possession of the ball. Kicking it back to the opposition is really not the cleverest of plays. Is it?

I think if you were coaching a team of U12s who are very much learning their trade, you might try to understand their actions and decisions and use what happened as an example of what not to do. 

When your team is bursting at the seams with seasoned internationals, British and Irish Lions and a World Cup medal-winning centre the only thing you can truthfully question as a coach is your players’ mindset which is normally linked to your own game strategy.

I dislike comparing one team to another because no team will ever have the same principles or resources as the other albeit, for those of you who watched Leinster demolish Glasgow on Friday night what you witnessed was an assembly of players who knew exactly what they were doing and why they were doing it.

Each of Leo Cullen’s players had a job to do and if their initial actions did not produce the required result, they had plans B, C and D to fall back on and they never panicked or looked disconcerted in their choices. Munster on the other hand looked as if they were passing the ball because passing is recorded somewhere in a book called, ‘ How to play rugby for beginners, volume 1’.

There were passages of play during this game when the ball went from Craig Casey to Jack Crowley, who shifted it to Dan Goggin, who gave it to Liam Coombes who gave it to one of the wingers and the net result was a 10-metre loss, and to make matters worse it didn’t get any better when Conor Murray and Damien de Allende arrived on the park.

Statistics normally never lie and when you consider that Munster made zero line-breaks over the entirety of this game, it paints a very bleak picture for what is going to happen when the big boys in Europe come calling.

Up front, it is rear to see a Munster scrum get stuck in reverse gear, but on this occasion, Jeremy Loughman, Niall Scannell and most notably John Ryan were given a lesson in the undocumented arts of, front row tactfulness. In other words, they had their arses handed to them by an opposing front row who distorted the dark arts of scrummaging and expertly got away with it.

The only try of the game came courtesy of a Munster maul when somehow young Craig Casey ended up dotting it down over the line. I guess in some respects it is irrelevant who scores, but when you consider that nearly all the backs had to leave their posts and add their weight to get the maul moving in the right direction, it questions the current proficiency of a weapon that Munster have relied on for decades.

It would be very wrong of me not to mention the dogged resilience and determination shown by the Ospreys during this game and if any of Munster’s future opponents are looking for a blueprint on how to upset the Munster players, they need look no further then these eighty minutes as a perfect example.

Munster will need to realise that not everything will go their way and questioning the officials on nearly every decision that goes against them will do them no favours.

It was blatantly obvious that Peter O’Mahony, the Munster captain was getting more and more frustrated as the game went on and instead of looking bemused at all the negative judgements bestowed against his players, what he should have done was gather the troops, tell them to shut up and concentrate on their jobs. 

Munster's Peter O’Mahony is tackled by Rhys Webb of Ospreys. Picture: INPHO/Ashley Crowden
Munster's Peter O’Mahony is tackled by Rhys Webb of Ospreys. Picture: INPHO/Ashley Crowden

I know it’s hard to keep a tight lip when you feel you are hard done by, but when did you ever see a referee change their mind because you disagreed with their assessment?

This may well have been Munster’s first loss of the season, but the initial positive signs of their first three wins have vanished over the last two games and it is very much back to the drawing board for van Graan’s coaching ticket.

He now has a month to tinker with his squad before the next game and the road that he needs to navigate has many bends and hills to traverse.

Four years at the helm is a very long time to be still wondering what your best game plan is and if I were him, I’d be chatting with my agent.

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