Munster’s young players have illustrated signs of progress.
Prior to yesterday’s game with Leinster, I was very pessimistic about Munster’s chances in the Aviva Stadium. Although Anthony Foley had the luxury of selecting his international contingent, this season Munster have shown little to suggest that they could beat Leinster in Dublin.
However as the game reached it’s conclusion, it seemed as though Munster were going to earn an unlikely victory. Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that Munster snatched defeat from the jaws of victory through very familiar failings.
Anthony Foley’s judgement has once again been called into question after he decided to replace Johnny Holland with the out of form and Ian Keatley.
Munster’s lack of leadership has also been highlighted, after they appeared to panic when presented with a match winning opportunity. Their discipline gave way as the first half drew to a close, with Robin Copeland particularly guilty in this regard.
Finally, although Munster could very well have won the game, they offered little variation in attack, often going through numerous phases before their players conceded penalties or turnovers after finding themselves isolated.
Despite the fact that the defeat effectively ended Munster’s chances of qualifying for the Pro 12 playoffs, a number of positives emerged from the game.
1. Johnny Holland
Although Johnny Holland had played well against Zebre, few expected him to start yesterday. Therefore to see him excel was particularly encouraging.
Apart from scoring all of Munster’s points, Holland kicked well out of hand, finding touch with a number of sensible kicks behind Leinster’s defence.
He also linked up well with Rory Scannell, who provided Munster with a play making option.
2. Rory Scannell
Since Munster emerged as a European force, they have signed numerous players to fill the number 12 jersey. Jason Holland, Rob Henderson, Trevor Halstead, Rua Tipoki, Jean de Villiers and Sam Tuitupou immediately spring to mind.
They have also attempted to convert Denis Hurley into an inside centre, but not with too much success. However on yesterday’s evidence, Rory Scannell could provide Munster with a long term solution to this problem problem position.
Indeed, while fans have been quick to highlight his attributes, Scannell had yet to start against a player such as Ben Te’o. Not only was he sound in defence, but he brought the players around him into the game.
If Munster establish a settled backline next season, Scannell could benefit immensely.
3. Niall Scannell
While Niall Scannell might not offer ball carrying bulk around the field, there is a lot to be said for being able to throw accurately into the line out.
Therefore his performance was in complete contrast to that of Sean Cronin. Not only was Scannell strong out of touch, despite throwing against Devin Toner, he was also part of a front row that held it’s own in the face of more illustrious opponents.
With Duncan Casey and Mike Sherry also available to Anthony Foley, Munster appear well stocked at hooker.
4. Stephen Archer
In the aftermath of the Six Nations, many commentators included Jack McGrath in their team of the Championship. Not only is the Leinster loosehead a dangerous ball carrier, but a strong scrummager.
By contrast, Stephen Archer has played very little rugby over recent seasons and has suffered some maulings at scrum time.
However the Munster tighthead held his own throughout and was even part of a front row that won a number of penalties.
With BJ Botha set to leave Munster at the end of the season, this was particularly encouraging.
5. Tommy O’Donnell
Make no mistake about it, this was a big game for Tommy O’Donnell. Having done little wrong during the Six Nations, O’Donnell found himself replaced by Josh van der Flier before being reinstated in the Irish team against Scotland.
However O’Donnell demonstrated his quality throughout, keeping Leinster’s predators at bay by clearing out countless rucks. He also carried well, offering himself off the shoulders of both Holland and Scannell in attack.
Given how susceptible O’Donnell is to injury, signing an additional openside must be a priority for Munster.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena
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