The construction industry in Ireland may have been dormant for the past few years, but there were plasterers a plenty working hard to cover over the problems that arose for both the victorious Leinster and the vanquished Munster after Saturday’s underwhelming top of the table Pro 12 derby, argues Ozer McMahon.
Both teams were looking for a good run out, to reintegrate their internationals onto their teams and at all costs avoid any injury ahead of next weekend’s Heineken Cup quarter finals. Leinster suffered a spate of front row injuries in the lead up to this game while Munster were without two of their most abrasive forwards. That diluted the intensity to a degree and removed a level of ferocity many had been looking forward to. Munster looked to have the edge in the scrum and profited from a number of penalties which Ian Keatley kicked with aplomb. Despite this they couldn’t tighten the noose sufficiently to really force a struggling Leinster entirely onto the back foot. Despite winning, Leinster know how far they are off the level required to travel to the home of the defending European champions Toulon and turn them over next weekend. Munster are sure to be disappointed by defeat but if Leinster were off the pace, the Southern province were running backwards.
Ahead of the crucial quarter final both will be anxious to remedy areas that let them down on Saturday night. Here are three key areas that both provinces will be praying for vast improvements in.
1. Injury List
Leinster: Already without Sean O’Brien, Leinster can ill afford to have their next most influential forward sidelined next weekend. The feeling is that Cian Healy will be okay to start having been rested after a Six Nations that took its toll physically on the prop. The worries however, surround the back-up props where Jack McGrath, Marty Moore and Tadgh Furlong are all nursing knocks. If none of them are available, the props Leinster will have on the bench would not fill the supporters with confidence should they need to take the field against a massive Toulon pack with 15 or 20 minutes remaining. Brian O’Driscoll also had to depart the field against Munster in the second half and should he be absent, Leinster are in big trouble. BOD and Eoin Reddan were the only backs that really showed any flair against Munster and the loss of the centre would greatly hamper Leinster’s chances, mentally as much as physically.
Munster: The fact they had to withdraw Peter O’Mahony only moments before kick off on Saturday will be a real concern to the Munster faithful. The captain is clearly still struggling with the hamstring injury he picked up against England during the Six Nations. There don’t seem to be any concerns about him missing the Toulouse match but the fact that he is still below full fitness is a worry. Munster will need their captain to be at the peak of his powers and both fans and players alike rally around the Cork man when he is at his best. Hamstring injuries can be difficult to clear up and there are worries about the flankers chances of completing the 80 minutes. More of a worry however is the foot injury to Donnacha Ryan that kept him out of the running for the Leinster game. The medical releases have appeared indecisive with nobody putting an exact time frame on his return. Munster can’t afford to carry any passengers up front against Toulouse even if this games appears tailor made for the Tipp man.
2. Creative Sparkle
Leinster: It was never going to be a try-fest at the Aviva but the lack of any real threatening back play was conspicuous in its absence. It took a moment of typical BOD opportunism off an excellent Shane Jennings offload to breach the try line for the only time on the night. Barring that both sides were poor with ball in hand. Rob Kearney who looked so threatening for Ireland for the past two months was nowhere near as imposing, while Luke Fitzgerald showcased none of the zip that had been so central to his game pre-Christmas. Given the array of A-list internationals that will be in the Toulon pack, Leinster will be looking to spread the ball and keep the home side on the move. They won’t come out on top if the match comes down to an arm wrestle up front so they will need a much bigger contribution from their backline.
Munster: It was a bad, bad day at the office for the Munster backline. Everyone was expecting Simon Zebo to put on a show but it never arrived. The winger didn’t take the ball forward too frequently but when he did he was well marshalled by a far from overworked Leinster defence. Rob Penny experimented with Denis Hurley at inside centre but that tactic fell flat on its face. The Meath man may carry substantial mass in the mould of many of the current inside centres strutting their stuff at the top level but he hasn’t the vision, passing or pace to command that position. Hurley ran hard and straight at every opportunity but his brute force approach left no impression. Munster aren’t overflowing with creative talents in midfield but recasting a passable back three squad player in such a central role was a naïve move from the coaching staff.
3. Set Piece Struggles
Leinster: It is hard to know how either side will look at the scrum in the aftermath of Saturday’s fixture. Many would have assumed BJ Botha would have scrummaged the hapless Michael Bent into submission but it never materialised. Leinster gave away a number of penalties at the scrum but Mike Ross was the main offender. Alain Rolland should have sent Ross to the bin for repeat offending but kept finding a reason to keep him on the field. Cian Healy will come back into the team at loose head and that will strengthen the Leinster front row no end, but barring a miracle he won’t complete the full 80. If Bent is called into the fray it’s likely that Toulon’s glut of monstrous props will target him. Mike Ross has struggled under the new scrum laws and up against a side like Toulon who base their whole game on power up front, he will be targeted.
Munster: They edged the battle in the front row rather than eviscerating Leinster like some could have reasonably expected them to do so. Dave Kilcoyne troubled Mike Ross but then let him off the hook on other occasions with poor positioning. At lineout time Munster were also flat and Paul O’Connell didn’t dominate Devin Toner. Unlike Leinster, Munster don’t have a back division who could be expected to deliver an exciting performance and cut Toulouse to ribbons. They will have to take the direct approach but will need to do so more convincingly. O’Mahony will add depth to the options at lineout time, while if Donnacha Ryan makes it back he will also give Munster more punch here. Toulouse have an impressive pack but it’s not as powerful as Toulon and there is also the Thomond Park factor that has spooked so many illustrious opponents in the past. If Munster don’t gain an advantage up front they won’t won. That motivation should see serious improvements in itself.
Ozer McMahon, Pundit Arena.
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