Attacking accuracy key for Munster’s Sportsground trip

While there can be no doubt that last weekend’s win over Leinster is a real shot in the arm for Munster’s hopes of claiming top spot in Conference A, there is certainly plenty to work on as the province prepares for Connacht at the Sportsground on Saturday evening. 

The win over the current European and Pro14 Champions closes the gap to Glasgow to just two points with the hunt for a home semi final now very much wide open once again. 

A nine point home win, two tries to nil and denying the visitors a bonus point and it looks a great result, but take a closer look at Munster’s attacking stats and the process needs a bit of fine tuning. 

Heineken Champions Cup Round 2, Thomond Park, Limerick 20/10/2018 Munster vs Gloucester Munster’s Attack Coach Felix Jones with Dan Goggin Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Johann van Graan’s side enjoyed a one-man advantage for 68 minutes when James Lowe was shown a red card, Healy and Furlong also had spells in the bin totalling 88 minutes when Munster had an extra player. 

For eight of those minutes Furlong and Lowe were both absent meaning Munster were looking to breakdown a 13-man defensive line. Munster recorded one try from a lineout maul while the other was an excellent defensive read from Keith Earls to pull off a superb intercept. 

Munster kept the scoreboard ticking over with Carbery’s kicking impeccable but Leinster’s line was not under as much pressure as it should have been given the numerical situation. 

Guinness PRO14, Thomond Park, Limerick 29/12/2018 Munster vs Leinster Munster’s Joey Carbery kicks at goal Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

At the end of the day it is professional sports and the result really is all that matters and nobody is cribbing about a Munster. Scoring two tries against Leinster with just 38% of the ball and 39% is a clear sign of improving efficiency and is worthy of credit, but you just get the feeling that there is more in this Munster team. 

Away to Castres with an extra player for a total of 20 minutes and no tries, away to Ulster with an extra player for 10 minutes and no tries. Granted both were really tough fixtures, there were missed kicking opportunities against Castres and Ulster should have been reduced to 14 players from the opening kick off but a terrible refereeing decision meant that never materialised. 

Conference A has become quite congested over the last few weeks with just nine points separating Cardiff in 5th(32pts) and Glasgow in 1st(41). Recently the gap between then second placed Munster and Glasgow was a whopping 11 points showing just how quickly things can change. 

Munster currently hold a slender three-point lead over a Connacht team in superb form winning six of their last seven games in all competitions. The single loss coming away to Leinster in a game the Westerners let slip from their grasp. 

GuinnessPRO14 rugby Thomond Park Limerick 6/1/2018 Munster vs Connacht Munster’s Conor Murray Mandatory Credit ©INPHc4/O/Billy Stickland

Johann van Graan will be under no illusions as to how difficult this task will be and you can expect heavy rotation with just a six-day turnaround to the critical trip to Gloucester. 

If Munster are to generate some much needed attacking momentum heading into two crucial European weeks then Saturday evening is a good starting point with a stern test away against a serious conference contender. 

Defensively, Munster have been a tough nut to crack of late but the attack has been somewhat stilted. Individual errors and timing issues have meant that the backline are not keeping defences guessing like the otherwise might and while defence is always easier to get right, Munster’s attacking issues are not insurmountable. 

Conference leaders Glasgow have a Saturday afternoon kick-off away to a much-improved Treviso side that lie 3rdin Conference B with serious playoff ambitions of their own. The Warriors will be looking to rebound from back to back losses to Edinburgh and while the Italians have been really competitive this year, one would expect the Warriors to come away with the win. 

It all adds to the anticipation of Saturday evening’s encounter, an Irish derby between two serious contenders in a conference that is wide open. 

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Raffaele Rocca

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