Sport: Oval Digest – Munster Must Make Changes As European Clashes Loom
Ronan O’Gara became the highest capped MUNSTER player of the pro era on Saturday night in his home town of Cork, but many will be thinking he won’t add too many more caps to his 234 after another lethargic Munster performance.
With the halfway point in the season having come and gone, Rob Penney’s team has been hot and cold. This is to be expected when a new coach with new ideas arrives. However, and worryingly, there’s been no sign of a linear improvement in terms of game plan execution since September.
Penney has spoken of expanding the Munster way of doing things, but this ethos has been severely hampered by an insipid side to side style of play, sideways running centres, the insistence of O’Gara at 10 to stand deep and the inability of the Ireland legend to offer any linebreak threat.
What O’Gara does so well is kick for position. Beautiful to watch, this is generally deemed by frothy-mouthed commentators to be ‘ROG at his best’. However, Munster no longer have the pack to compete at the top level, and fine kicks into space or for territory no longer offer an attacking platform, but merely deliver hard earned ball back to the opposition.
It’s no coincidence that many of the top teams (see Leinster of last year or New Zealand) generally base their offense around keeping the ball and attacking intelligently. With ROG at the helm, this new style is simply not a possibility.
Change is needed for Munster, and the new philosophy needs time to gel. Munster may come out next week and blow away Edinburgh, but as was shown against Sarries in the last round, better teams will find them out unless real changes are made.
Installing Keatley to 10, using Downey intelligently to provide go forward ball, and ensuring that backs fix their man and come at pace would go a long way to making Munster a force again, with forwards like O’Mahoney, Ryan and a resurgent O’Callaghan ready to do battle up front. It remains to be seen whether these calls will be made.
Overall, it was a highly entertaining weekend of Rabo action. In the Scottish capital, LEINSTER illustrated to their southern cousins how soft centered Edinburgh are with a 4 star performance. The returning O’Driscoll, Fitzgerald and Kearney got much needed game time under their belt, while O’Brien and Darcy turned in two excellent performances. Leinster face into the next two games in good shape. The blues should put an injury hit Scarlets to the sword next week, though may fail to record the second bonus they crave away to physically imposing Exeter.
CONNACHT, disappointed by two losses over Christmas, welcomed a poor Dragons side to Galway and duly came away with a confidence-boosting win, while ULSTER got back to winning ways in Belfast, with an imposing performance against Scarlets. The monstrous Nick Williams looks a new man compared to his previous stint on this island, and selection headaches mean Mark Anscombe will earn his corn this week.
The provinces will return to Heineken action next week hoping for four big wins, and I’d back the big three to take bonus points, with Connacht losing out in London.