As preseason friendlies go, this was about as good an early work out as you Munster could have wanted. The game was played at a decent pace – the brand new 3G surface saw to that – and there was an edge to the physical exchanges that will have pleased both coaches. This was a friendly, so we won’t take too much from it, but we can take some encouragement from the nature of Munster’s overall performance.
Munster saw the better of the defensive sequences overall and looked tighter in attack until the steam ran out of the game in the last quarter. When the game was there to be won in the third quarter, Munster did the business in the maul and close in carries.
The result was meaningless but what did we learn about how Munster are developing after Van Graan’s first preseason?
My main takeaway was our relentless attack on transition ball, be it from opposition kickaways, handling errors or forced turnovers. Anytime we got that kind of ball, we hit the wide channels immediately and started working combinations down the tramlines, with Sweetnam, Fitzgerald and Goggin impressive in the initial exchanges.
Munster really liked the use of the kick down the wing, and Sweetnam was outstanding in this regard. He really looked super sharp and was the best back on the field by a mile in the first half.
Munster kept Hanrahan and Keatley behind forward screens with some good hands on display from those same forwards to open up the wider areas of the pitch. That isn’t to say that Munster’s passing was perfect on big openside plays – far from it – but a little more sharpness from the base of the scrum might help Munster’s initial timing and patterns in those positions.
Defensively, Munster used the same narrow blitz as last season and kept two men in the backfield at all times when defending between the 10m and their 22. Munster tackled well but were a little off with their folding and structure set up, especially as guys began to sub on and sub off.
The scrum was decent overall, in that it was a solid platform on our own ball and showed real aggression on the Irish put in. The lineout wasn’t overly remarkable until Kleyn and Holland came on – there were a few overthrows and misreads – and at that point, the maul became a real force. Munster didn’t use too much artifice off the scrum and lineout but looked very solid when we did use a bit of movement off the scrum.
London Irish pressed well in the last five minutes as Munster switched combinations in and out but overall, I think Van Graan and his team will be relatively happy with the nature of this performance at this early stage of the season.