David Corkery on Munster: Backrow options critical to current good form

'Peter O’Mahony, Kendellen, Tadgh Beirne, Gavin Coombes, John Hodnett, Jack O’Sullivan, Fineen Wycherley and the magnificent Jack O’Donoghue are all vying for just three starting births...'
David Corkery on Munster: Backrow options critical to current good form

Ulster’s Stewart Moore and Andrew Warwick with Alex Kendellen and Stephen Archer of Munster. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

The 24-17 scoreline may indicate Friday night's game was a close contest, but Ulster were poor and Munster should really have won by a bigger margin.

When a team loses as narrowly and disappointingly as Ulster did last week against Toulouse in the European Cup, you expect a reaction. Ulster should have come out with all guns blazing, the red hand on their crest curled into a fist, but they looked like their spirit was broken.

Normally when these two proud provinces clash, there is a good bit of animosity. But here Ulster opted for a brand of non-confrontational rugby, which Munster easily swallowed up.

When you look at the make-up of the Ulster backline you can see why they looked to stretch Munster wide and move the ball through the hands but they forgot one of rugby’s golden rules, in order to score out wide the forwards must firstly win the battle.

With players like scrum-half John Cooney, fly-half Mike Lowry, Ethen Mcllroy and Robert Baloucoune on the wings and Stewart Moore wearing the 15 jersey, it's understandable you'd want your team to outpace and outsmart any other backline but, on this occasion Munster had their homework done.

At this point of the year and with Johann van Graan departing at the end of the season and Graham Rowntree confirmed as new head coach it is very hard to decipher who is actually calling the shots. Whoever it is, this Munster team are playing to a completely different set of blueprints to the clueless ones they used over the last few years.

Munster won this game by looking at the makeup of the Ulster team sheet, picking a blend of youth and experience in order to deal with the difficulties playing in Ulster and, most importantly, not overcommitting their resources at the breakdown.

All teams have strengths and weaknesses and by Munster never committing more than two players to every breakdown, they could easily cope with Ulster’s strike runners who were lurking out wide on the extremities. That nullified the home side's main threats.

Munster's Jack O’Donoghue and Conor Murray celebrate after the game. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Munster's Jack O’Donoghue and Conor Murray celebrate after the game. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

Munster’s backrow was yet again super in everything they did and just as they have over the last three games they completely overpowered and outsmarted their opposing numbers.

Last week it was Peter O’Mahony that led the way and this week it was Alex Kendellen who shouldered the heavy duties.

DEPTH

Kendellen, who seems to have the same shrewdness and work ethic of the late and great Anthony Foley, is part of a cohort of backrow players emerging in this Munster squad and breathing new life into a section of the team that Peter O’Mahony has single-handily had to carry for such a long time.

Competition in any walk of life is great for producing great results and now that Munster have players like O’Mahony, Kendellen, Tadgh Beirne, Gavin Coombes, John Hodnett, Jack O’Sullivan, Fineen Wycherley and the magnificent Jack O’Donoghue all vying for just three starting births, collectively they are pushing each other to become the best they possibly can be and the team is benefitting as a result.

Joey Carbery took another step in becoming a leader in the number 10 jersey and I cannot stress the importance of this enough.

If you look at any of the great teams that ever played the game, the one similarity in all of them is that they all had a player wearing the number 10 jersey that was special and did not suffer any fools lightly.

Ulster’s Brad Roberts and Rob Baloucoune with Joey Carbery of Munster. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Ulster’s Brad Roberts and Rob Baloucoune with Joey Carbery of Munster. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Jonny Wilkinson, Ronan O’Gara, Jonathan Sexton, Michael Lynagh, Dan Carter, Barry John and Mark Ella, all these players became the fulcrum point for good squads to become great teams. If Munster are ever to reach the top again, it is imperative that they have an operator to and guide his players around the field like a celebrated chess master.

It would be great if Munster could secure a home quarter-final in this competition but, need I remind you that finals are not played in home venues and until Munster break their fruitless 11-year drought without silverware, they will never take the next step in regaining their European crown.

Their task from now until the end of the season is that they keep on improving and put Cardiff to the sword next week in Musgrave Park.

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