David Corkery on rugby: Munster young guns showed why it's their time now

Battling display away to Exeter with a host of big names missing was proof a new era is on the way at Thomond Park
David Corkery on rugby: Munster young guns showed why it's their time now

Munster fans wave flags in support of their team during the Heineken Champions Cup tie at Sandy Park. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

AT last, a performance worth talking about and more importantly a very clear and loud message that a mass changing of the guard is required.

It was far from perfect, but at least it looked as if the players understood the true values of the jersey they were representing.

Deprived of so many top names, Munster travelled to the home of Exeter Rugby and despite losing by five points, they delivered a kind of tenacious display we haven’t seen for a very long time.

With no Peter O’Mahony, Joey Carbery, Dave Kilcoyne, Simon Zebo, Tadhg Beirne, Gavin Coombes or Andrew Conway to select from, Johann van Graan was left with no option but to call upon the fledgling members of his squad and boy did they deliver.

Despite the hosts butchering a good few scoring opportunities, especially in the first half, Munster will be kicking themselves that they didn’t take full advantage of this. Were it not for some silly basic errors, they could have gone on to win.

Driven by many youngsters, this new-look Munster side went about their business with little or no fear of the star-studded Exeter side they were facing. Throughout they showed many of the characteristics and unique traits that have been missing from Munster over the last few years.

Exeter Chiefs' Ian Whitten looks on as a scrum takes place against Munster. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire.
Exeter Chiefs' Ian Whitten looks on as a scrum takes place against Munster. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

Exeter, who are renowned for the clinical and ruthless way they turn pressure into points, found themselves scratching their heads time and time again as they kept coming within sniffing distance of Munster’s try-line and kept getting turned over or repelled by players who were not afraid to put their heads where you wouldn’t put a concrete block.

Central to this heroic and unflinching kind defensive efforts were the entire Munster backrow. 

While they worked as a unit, special mention must go to Jack O’Donoghue who not only did more than his fair share of donkey work, but he also shouldered the weight of the captain’s armband in O'Mahony’s absence.

Unless you are 6’ 5”, weigh 120kgs, can run 100m in 10.8 seconds and your name happens to be Jonah Lomu, all the players that we see today need their teammates to help them do their jobs. What we saw with this Munster backrow was a quartet of players who worked tirelessly for each other and as a result, they had an outstanding showing.

Between O’Donoghue, John Hodnett, Alex Kendellen and Jack O’Sullivan, who replaced Kindellen in the 28th minute, all four put in a massive shift and it would be a complete injustice if any of them were to lose out should Coombs, Beirne or O’Mahony become available for next week's return tie.

As a coach, it is imperative that you reward brilliant performances with loyalty and while getting injured is something that no one can foresee or prevent, you still end up losing your jersey, and it is up to you to win it back by proving you are good enough to do so.

Munster's Conor Murray kicks the ball clear. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire.
Munster's Conor Murray kicks the ball clear. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

Whoever presents fit for selection next week, be it Carbery, O’Mahony, Beirne, Zebo or Conway, I would start them all on the bench. When their apprentices have run out of fuel, only then would I launch them and give them the opportunity to regain the jersey.

Of the more established players who started in this game I thought Conor Murray had a great 60 minutes and some of his defensive work was just exceptional.

Murray who has unquestionably lost some of his natural ability to exploit holes in opposing defences looked as if he had a point to prove and certainly had a pep in his step for this game. It was great to see him breaking every now and then and keeping the Exeter fringe defensive players honest every time Munster were able to string a few phases together.

Ben Healy who had the task of strategically guiding his teammates around the field in place of Carbery did very little wrong however, he was unable to get a firm grip on proceedings because of the number of penalties and unforced errors that Munster were coughing up.

Healy, who won’t reach his 23rd birthday until June, has a massive future ahead of him. 

Yet with Carbery labelled as Johnny Sexton's successor, he could very unfairly find himself sitting on the bench next week because of instructions being handed down from the Irish management. 

The one player who I would look at replacing would be Chris Farrell for the next leg, as he didn’t have his greatest game.

It may have been because the Exeter backline were so sharp with their first and second phase attacking plays, but Farrell was caught on at least three or four occasions where his indecision left yawning holes for runners to flood through. Were it not for some miraculous cover tackles the five-point deficit that Munster must track down next week could have been a whole lot bigger.

OPPORTUNITY

Next week’s return tie presents Johann van Graan and his coaching ticket with a massive opportunity to regain some of the conviction they have lost from the 16th man who injects life into the concrete and steel that makes Thomond Park come alive.

Whilst I think we are still a good bit away from regaining the crown of Europe, a victory of substance and a quarter-final against Ulster or Toulouse would be a very welcome reward for the pain and suffering the faithful have had to endure.

However, the real question is, will our departing coach have the balls to remain loyal to those who have proven they are good enough over those who are relying on reputation?

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