Munster play well at times, but lose to a smarter more efficient Toulouse

The bonus point loss means the Reds have it all to play for next Sunday when they face Northampton in a make or break tie
Munster play well at times, but lose to a smarter more efficient Toulouse

Munster's Joey Carbery scores a try during the Heineken Champions Cup match at Thomond Park in Limerick, Ireland. Picture date: Sunday December 11, 2022.

IN terms of classic encounters, this game was grey and dreary, but in terms of proficiency, it was one of the most professional displays of winning away from home that I’ve ever seen.

Billed as a bout that was akin to two heavyweights going at it toe to toe, it was Munster that comfortably won the opening few rounds, but at times it was guess work as to what was unfolding on the pitch because of the blanket of fog that cloaked the hallowed playing surface of Thomond Park.

So bad was the fading visibility on the day, there was a suggestion that the game was going to be called off at the sixty minute mark because of player safety concerns.

With Toulouse having won this competition five times and Munster twice, you would have to agree that the pedigree on display was nothing short of rugby royalty.

As boxers often do, and considering the extremely poor visibility and bitterly cold temperature, it seemed as if both sides had decided that it was best to slowly feel their way into the game and they did this by playing a kicking version of ariel ping pong.

Mike Haley of Munster is tackled by Antoine Dupont of Toulouse during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool B Round 1 match between Munster and Toulouse at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Mike Haley of Munster is tackled by Antoine Dupont of Toulouse during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool B Round 1 match between Munster and Toulouse at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

In the end it was the visitors lack of discipline that allowed Munster gain a foot hold in their twenty-two and from that, Joey Carberry found a hole that allowed him squeeze over the whitewash however, from that moment on it seemed as if Toulouse just flicked a switch and took control of the game.

Spearheaded by a very quick, organised and strong defensive line, Toulouse forced Munster into making a whole pile of unforced errors and as the game went on, it seemed that the French were better off without the ball rather than in hand. Which is not really the French way.

Opting to hoof the ball straight down the throat of Munster’s full back Mike Haley time and time again, you would be forgiven for thinking that Haley was a weakness in the Munster team however, this couldn’t be further detached from the truth.

Unquestionably, Haley was Munster’s star performer and delt very comfortable with the many balls that Romain Ntamack or any of Toulouse’s back three launched into his air space. 

The problem arose when Haley made contact with the French defensive line and he either found himself getting isolated or running very close to the touch line which favoured the visitors and how they looked to defend.

Much noise has been made about Munster’s Antoinje Frisch, but considering the amount of ball Munster got to play with and the lack of clean line breaks in their midfield, I would be happier if they had signed a nineteen stone battering ram whose only job is to make it in beyond any teams first line of defence. 

Similar to what England’s Manu Tuilagi does when he is fit and running those straight lines that all those trying to tackle him know that, it is going to hurt at the point of contact.

Unless you have a pack of forwards who are completely dominant over their rival number’s and can provide their halfbacks with a constant supply of go forward ball, every team needs a version of Tuilagi in their team and with Rory Scannell and Frisch very similar in how they look to dance their way past defenders, Munster’s midfield is extremely easy to defend against.

Munster's Jeremy Loughman and Toulouse's Antoine Dupont
Munster's Jeremy Loughman and Toulouse's Antoine Dupont

Not surprisingly it was former World player of the year and French scrum half Antoinje Dupont that was awarded man of the match.

I have no idea how he does it, but apart from his ability to find exploitable gaps where gas would find it hard to escape, he also expels a kind of calming comfort that his fellow players feed off. 

Combine these abilities with his telepathic partnership with Ntamack and his leadership qualities, you can easily see why he is one of the most marketable players that the game has to offer.

On the positive side for Graham Rowntree, Munster’s lineout was top notch and whilst their scrum creaked and moaned, it stood up well, but the two tries that Toulouse scored either side of half-time is worrying and how they manifested needs to be looked at in detail.

A loosing bonus point against a very good Toulouse may not be as bad as it seems, however losing in Thomond Park is not something Munster can afford.

Next week Munster travel away to Northampton and considering how they were swept aside by La Rochelle, it will be viewed as a do or die game for both sides.

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