Munster rugby: Talking points ahead of crunch Champions Cup clash in South Africa

Derek Daly breaks down the concerns for Munster fans as they travel to face the Sharks on Saturday
Munster rugby: Talking points ahead of crunch Champions Cup clash in South Africa

Munster’s Simon Zebo on the attack. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

FROM a defensive point of view the last few games that Munster have played have been frankly alarming.

Going from the second half of the Scarlets game, played on March 3, to the first half of the game last Saturday against Glasgow, Munster shipped an eye-watering 63 points. 

That’s 63 points in just 80 minutes of rugby, and at home to boot. There is simply no hiding place for a stat like that. 

Defensive coach Denis Leamy certainly has his work cut out to put a sufficient sticking plaster over the many issues that are causing such big totals being shipped.

The warning signs had been there when conceding 30 in the 30-40 win over Benetton in late January, but no one would have expected what occurred in the first half of the Glasgow match.

The attitude just seemed off, and there were some seriously bad moments for individuals that evening. Incidents of forwards walking back into position as a maul rumbles towards their own line, or props watching this same maul and only engaging when it is too late, and even then joining on the wrong side of the maul. 

You would imagine that the internal video analysis in the days since the Glasgow defeat has been of the ‘honest’ variety.

Munster’s Rory Scannell in action against Glasgow. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Munster’s Rory Scannell in action against Glasgow. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Last Saturday should serve as a wake-up call, as quite simply Munster were miles off of the required level that night at Thomond Park. Perhaps some of the squad had one eye on the trip to South Africa for Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup last-16 encounter with the Sharks, but that is no excuse given the importance of the Glasgow game for both play-off and European qualification.

Munster do have a rich history of pulling big European performances out of the bag on the back of poor form in the build-up to these games. Fans will hope for something similar on Saturday.

The Sharks may be laden with Springboks throughout their side, but they haven’t been in great form themselves in recent months. 

They have lost their last three league fixtures, including a 32-20 loss at the Scarlets last weekend, as well as an eye-catching 24-31 home defeat to Ulster a month ago. That latter result will certainly have encouraged Graham Rowntree’s side. 

Overall, they’ve only won three of their nine fixtures in all competitions in 2023, so the confidence levels cannot be wonderful in Neil Powell’s squad.

Niall Scannell, Antoine Frisch and Keynan Knox were part of the 28-man squad that headed to Durban for Saturday’s crunch Champions Cup clash. 

The first two on that list were badly missed in last week’s crushing defeat at home to the Warriors, so head coach Graham Rowntree is likely to throw them straight back into the fray, providing they are fully fit for action.


Frisch’s return should mean that there will be no necessity to play Jack Crowley at inside centre for this one, which immediately means a big call has to be made this weekend at out-half. 

Does Rowntree pick Joey Carbery after his poor display against Glasgow, or does he now back Crowley in such a big knockout European tie?

Of course, there is also the option of parachuting Ben Healy into the no. 10 jersey, but the optics of picking a player leaving the club in a couple of months over two who are not would not be great. 

It would be a surprise if Crowley does not get a chance in South Africa, which would be somewhat of a full-circle moment for him, given that it was his performances for Emerging Ireland in South Africa last year that fast-tracked his development for club and country.

It was noticeable that the young second-row pairing of Tom Ahern and Edwin Edogbo did not travel, meaning the locks stocks travelling to South Africa look fairly bare. Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley and RG Snyman will have to do all the heavy lifting between them. 

Rugby fans on both sides of the equator will be looking forward to Snyman going head-to-head with Eben Etzebeth at some stage, as the last time they shared the same pitch they were winning the World Cup in 2019. 

Any collisions between those two giants will be worth the admission fee alone, in what is likely to be a close, bruising encounter.

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