Wasps test is another chance for Munster to show their progress

Reds make changes from the win over Castres, which includes the addition of Scott Buckley and Simon Zebo to the bench
Wasps test is another chance for Munster to show their progress

Munster's John Hodnett and Thomas Ahern celebrate winning away in France last Friday. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

MUNSTER face Wasps this Sunday at Thomond Park with qualification for the last 16 of the Heineken Champions Cup in the bag, but knowing a win could prove of great importance much deeper into the tournament.

Munster fans will be hoping that a third victory in a row will be accompanied by further good form, after a difficult spell for the squad.

MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Ben Healy, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Diarmuid Barron, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (c), Jack O’Donoghue, Gavin Coombes.

Replacements: Scott Buckley, Jeremy Loughman, John Ryan, Fineen Wycherley, John Hodnett, Craig Casey, Jack Crowley, Simon Zebo.

Even after winning in France last Friday, there was considerable negative chatter regardìng Munster, although it must also be noted that the TV commentary was extremely negative towards them, which may have influenced some opinions.

In no way are we suggesting that Munster were brilliant against Castres. The performance was an error-ridden one, but at least there was a more positive look about Munster’s attacking approach, and that has to be noted and commended. Just cut down on the individual errors and hopefully, the results will be seen later in the season.

It could well be that the players have gotten too used to the conservative approach that was so heavily criticised in recent weeks and that any move towards being more expansive will take some getting used to on their part.

It has certainly felt like Munster have attempted to be a little bit more expansive against Ulster and Castres. Fair enough, it was not Barbarians rugby, but it was certainly a considerable step up from the intent shown against Connacht three weeks ago, and you cannot underestimate the lift that a few wins can bring to a side either.

The likes of Tadhg Beirne, Gavin Coombes and Peter O’Mahony are currently all displaying Ireland-level form, while Conor Murray, Rory Scannell and Chris Farrell all gave some of the best displays they have produced in some time in a Munster shirt. young players like John Hodnett and Jack Crowley continued to bolster their reputations too.

Jack Crowley of Munster in action against Ryno Pieterse of Castres Olympique. Picture: Manuel Blondeu/Sportsfile
Jack Crowley of Munster in action against Ryno Pieterse of Castres Olympique. Picture: Manuel Blondeu/Sportsfile

The situation at out-half is getting very interesting at Munster right now. Joey Carbery will, no doubt, still be considered first choice at the province by Johann van Graan, but Ben Healy has put his hand up when given opportunities this season, and on the last two weekends Innishannon native Jack Crowley has really looked the part.

Just turned 22, he really stood up against a very physical Castres side, taking a number of late hits designed to intimidate, yet he got bounced straight back up and constantly offered himself as first receiver in an advanced flat position. He also topped the Munster tackle count on the night, which demonstrated that he is most certainly up to it in the physical department at this level. This was certainly impressive but is probably something that needs to be toned down a tad, as out-halves who top tackle counts tend to have a short shelf-life.

The bottom line is that Munster have plenty of options, which can only be good for the club, as they all compete for the same shirt. You would hope that Crowley’s form is backed now though and that he can really get a good run in the position. A 10 needs a good run of games in the position before they really start to take ownership of a team, and Crowley’s display in Castres might suggest that he is the best long-term option in the position for Munster.

When Munster scalped Wasps at the Ricoh Arena in the battle of the makeshift line-ups back in December you would have assumed that it effectively set up a regulation home fixture for Munster come January, but Wasps’ recent form suggests otherwise.

Their 30-22 win over European Champions Toulouse at the weekend and the 16-13 triumph over the Gallagher English Premiership leaders the Leicester Tigers the week before would suggest that they could be an extremely tough nut to crack for a Munster side looking for a win that would not only get them a favourable draw in the last 16 round, but might also secure a home quarter-final come May.

This season has been a one-step forward and then two-back kind of one to date for Munster. Sunday needs to be a step forwards as Johann van Graan’s side try to position themselves in a favourable position for a right stab at European glory come the late spring, early summer.

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