Munster’s crushing 31-19 loss to Leicester on Saturday night at Thomond Park was the reality check that Anthony Foley and many Munster fans needed – they’re just not there yet.
The fight, the willingness to charge forward and the ability to capitalise on momentum, hallmarks of Munster rugby in the past, was there to see in patches on a cold night in Limerick, but unfortunately those attributes we associate so fondly with Munster teams over the years were glaringly overshadowed by a lack of composure and a lack of penetration.
Foley’s Munster side gifted Leicester three very soft tries and the win by not making one-on-one tackles, failing to execute at the set-piece and by not switching on around the fringes. They were three very substandard tries to concede and while Ian Keatley may have been excused for being overpowered by the bigger, stronger Vereniki Goneva on the Tigers’ first score, Mike Fitzgerald’s and Ben Young’s tries were simply inexcusable.
Overthrowing the back pod close to your line is a cardinal sin for forwards and unfortunately for Niall Scannell, his first errant throw all night resulted directly in a Leicester try. Fitzgerald’s try came down to Scannell and Ryan’s inability to execute, but Leicester’s third try of the night was down to no Munster player putting themselves in a position to execute, as Youngs sliced through a non-existent line and past a hapless Francis Saili en route to the try line.
It was poor defence from Munster and it ultimately cost them the game but before I delve into more of Munster’s problems, I must acknowledge that they are a side that is going through a re-building process. Despite last night’s lack of composure, there is a lot of positive signs coming from Limerick with James Cronin, Dave Foley, CJ Stander and Dave O’Callaghan among them. Munster have some very solid building blocks for the future but are continually let down by a lack of creativity and playmaking ability in the ten and twelve channels.
Keatley and Denis Hurley are steady and dependable but they will not take Munster the places they wish to go. With an abundance of speed and finishing ability out wide in the form of Simon Zebo, Keith Earls and Andrew Conway, Munster possess the weapons to cause some serious damage on the flanks but are consistently let down by a lack of imagination and creativity, as Munster fans must be surely thinking of what could have been with JJ Hanrahan at the helm.
Hanrahan is the exact type of player that Munster need right now and while the forward pack often does a good job of making metres around the fringes, the backline regularly misfires and lacks any real penetration to capitalise on any momentum gained.
Munster have a lot of solid players for the future and when the likes of Peter O’Mahony and Tommy O’Donnell return they will be significantly stronger. They have a young playing group and players like Scannell will learn from last night’s mistakes, but Keatley and Hurley are what they are at this stage of their careers and unless Munster can find some viable competition for them, results like last night may be more common than we might have expected.
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena