This Munster side is heading in the wrong direction under the current management

This Munster side is heading in the wrong direction under the current management

United Rugby Championship, The Sportsground, Galway 1/1/2022

WHEN it comes to Munster’s stuttering season to date, let’s start with the caveats.

Munster’s campaign has been severely disrupted due to the Covid issues suffered during and after their ill-fated South African sojourn. 

Due to these disruptions the players have not been able to get enough gametime, and it has also meant that coaches have found themselves working with different units of players on almost a daily basis.

There have also been significant injury issues. RG Snyman got crocked again without ever really getting back, while his fellow countryman Jason Jenkins has somehow managed to play even less rugby than his fellow Springbok, thereby denying Munster the use of a considerable amount of pack power. 

There have been other injuries too, with Joey Carbery’s probably being the most high profile one, while the returning Simon Zebo has barely been seen.

Considering all of the above, it is no wonder that Munster have struggled, but you could argue that every other pro rugby team is experiencing similar issues, yet they do not seem to be having the same performance issues as Munster.

Pre the South African trip, on October 16th Munster were poor when just about beating Connacht by 20-18 at Thomond Park, when they pretty much offered nothing in attack for the entire 80 minutes. 

A week later against the Ospreys it was even worse, as they went down to a costly 18-10 defeat on the road without ever really firing a shot due to their ultra-conservative nature of their play.

United Rugby Championship, The Sportsground, Galway 1/1/2022
United Rugby Championship, The Sportsground, Galway 1/1/2022

There was then the huge covid related break before a patched-together Munster somehow won away at Wasps in the Champions Cup in thrilling fashion on December 12th, before a week later, with a lot of first-teamers back, they were back to performing poorly when just about doing enough to see off Castres at home by 19-13. 

And last Saturday Munster produced another frustrating performance, as they went down 10-8 to Connacht at the Sportsgrounds, again without ever offering anything as an attacking entity.

It really was a dire watch in Galway, and some of the stats back that up. One match stat that stood out like a sore thumb was the fact that Munster passed the ball only 45 times in the entire game. 45 times in 80 minutes of rugby. 

That is difficult to fathom. These are professional rugby players, so you would assume they are acting under instruction, so we can only conclude that they were told to go out and play like that.

They did score one try in the game, but in truth that came from a Mack Hansen error. 

The one real opportunity they did have was when they were camped on the Connacht line just before half time for a period of around seven minutes, winning penalty after penalty. Munster took tap penalty after tap penalty and tried to muscle their way over with one-out runners. Possibly the craziest stat of all is that during this sustained attacking period Munster did not execute two passes in a row even once. One pass, bash. One pass, bash. Rinse, repeat. 

That’s the limit of Munster’s attacking imagination and intent in the Johann van Graan era.

This simply is not good enough, and the worry is that good young players will have their development stall, or even regress, under such instruction. When Craig Casey emerged we were all delighted to have this young tempo scrum half emerging, but his natural game is being coached out of him. He’s still only 22, but he does not look a better player then when he first came to national attention as a 20 year-old.

Munster ended up conceding seventeen penalties against Connacht, with a lot of them just being down to poor decision making, probably borne out of sheer frustration. 

When players are being told to not back their own natural instincts and to play a no-risk style of rugby then it does not promote a culture where players get to make good on-field decisions on a regular basis. 

The sight of outhalf Ben Healy attempting a 70m drop goal into the wind in the second half in Galway was a case in point.

United Rugby Championship, The Sportsground, Galway 1/1/2022
United Rugby Championship, The Sportsground, Galway 1/1/2022

With a bit of luck Munster will get a block of games under their belt in the next few weeks, starting with Saturday’s clash against Ulster at Thomond Park, and more players can get back up to speed.

The performance levels simply must improve if the season is to have any hope of being a successful one. 

If we keep getting the same type of performances that we have seen since October then you would have to question why van Graan needs to see out the season, as if that is the best his side can muster then Munster are going nowhere fast.

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