Jackie Tyrrell and Liam Toland

Colum­nists with the in­side track

The Irish Times - - Front Page - Liam Toland

There’s a cer­tain irony in this week­end’s fix­tures that only two sides across the Guin­ness Pro14 won 15 games in the reg­u­lar sea­son – both Scottish. That Ed­in­burgh found them­selves in the play-off with Mun­ster tells us plenty, with the Scottish side third in their con­fer­ence be­hind both Le­in­ster and Scar­lets, de­spite win­ning one more game.

Bonus points can do that to you, but Ed­in­burgh won two more games than Mun­ster. “Them’s the rules” I sup­pose, but it does tell us a lot about dif­fer­ing styles. The big ques­tion to­mor­row is what style will Mun­ster em­ploy as they try to put Le­in­ster back in that dark place they found them­selves in Bil­bao? That’s all Jo­hann van Graan can hope to do. Whether they can close out from there is re­liant on many ex­ter­nal fac­tors – ref­eree, luck, in­juries etc . . .

What can Mun­ster do to­mor­row that no one in Europe could, but six other sides man­aged in the reg­u­lar Guin­ness Pro14 sea­son?

To an­swer this, we ‘ob­vi­ously’ know how to beat Le­in­ster, or at least push them to the brink. There’s a cause and ef­fect to ev­ery­thing. That the Scar­lets couldn’t tar­get the Le­in­ster cause in their Euro­pean semi-fi­nal made Rac­ing’s suc­cess­ful ef­fort fas­ci­nat­ing, es­pe­cially when dig­ging down through the stats.

In the fi­nal, Rac­ing had one scrum in the en­tire match. This is phe­nom­e­nal tes­ta­ment to the qual­ity of han­dling from Le­in­ster, es­pe­cially as Leo Cullen’s side made al­most 50 per cent more passes than Rac­ing. Time and again, James Ryan and oth­ers re­ceived the ball in heavy traf­fic only to make pre­cious yards when yards were at a pre­mium. Time and again, Johnny Sex­ton, in try­ing to open a welded-shut Rac­ing defence, pushed the pass right on the gain­line. That Le­in­ster af­forded Rac­ing just one scrum (com­pared to six of their own) was im­mense. It shows that cheap turnovers were kept to a min­i­mum.

‘‘ Conor Mur­ray and a kick­ing game will only pro­vide Mun­ster with so many op­por­tu­ni­ties

Iso­lated

Stylis­ti­cally, with just 38 per cent of possession against Ed­in­burgh in their Pro14 play-off, Mun­ster man­aged to out­kick Le­in­ster 36 to 27. Le­in­ster had way more possession (over 60 per cent) and chose not to kick, lim­it­ing Rac­ing to a much slower start than they en­joyed against Mun­ster. Le­in­ster sim­ply chose to keep the ball in hand whereas Mun­ster chose the aerial route.

That the Le­in­ster fron­trows had “quiet” games was a nod to the im­pact Rac­ing made on Le­in­ster’s ball con­trol. Sixty-two per cent in the first half, giv­ing up pre­cious few Rac­ing steals. That is down to many things, but shows the Le­in­ster fron­trow ded­i­cated time and tech­nique to guar­an­tee that no man was left iso­lated.

Turnovers did oc­cur, but nowhere near the ex­tent Rac­ing have in­flicted on other teams. Play­ers like Tadhg Fur­long were able to adapt and tran­si­tion from his more fa­mil­iar role around the ball, to a more cru­cial one help­ing the ball car­rier when iso­lated on the deck. Emo­tional fa­tigue is now a real dan­ger to Le­in­ster. Mun­ster need to cre­ate some emo­tional doubt. All week Le­in­ster will, I’m sure, be fo­cus­ing on this is­sue. How to get them­selves back up for the Mun­ster on­slaught.

The real chal­lenge for Mun­ster is in the knowl­edge that they don’t have the same ar­moury as Rac­ing. I noted on Mon­day the im­pact of Don­nacha Ryan’s shoul­der in­jury had on Rac­ing’s in­abil­ity to drive their ad­van­tage home. For 70 min­utes he was un­able to lift in the de­fen­sive li­ne­outs, but he was also un­able to lift in Rac­ing’s li­ne­outs also. In essence, this one in­jury cost Rac­ing the most.

Peter O’Ma­hony stated this week that “It’s gonna be hard, prob­a­bly the hard­est game we play all year, but it has to be our best per­for­mance”. So what qual­i­fies as their best per­for­mance? It will re­quire at least par­ity in the sec­ondrow bat­tle where Jean Kleyn will be piv­otal. In the big­ger matches he needs more from his sec­ondrow part­ner, not just in terms of phys­i­cal im­pact but cre­ativ­ity, lines of run­ning and so on. A set-piece, can Mun­ster dis­rupt Le­in­ster ball? We know O’Ma­hony is world class in this depart­ment but can the Mun­ster sec­ondrows also bring some­thing to the party?

The scrum is an­other area where it looks like tight­head Stephen Archer’s re­cent surgery will im­pact Mun­ster’s abil­ity to dis­rupt. Archer has been con­sis­tently start­ing, with the added might of John Ryan com­ing off the bench in an ex­tremely strong clos­ing scrum. But with only seven scrums in Bil­bao, each pre­cious op­por­tu­nity to pile on the emo­tional fa­tigue on to Le­in­ster will be vi­tal. Any tiny ad­van­tage needs to be con­verted into scores in or­der to drain Le­in­ster emo­tion­ally.

Ul­ti­mately Mun­ster will get the ball, so how will they use it? Conor Mur­ray and a kick­ing game will only pro­vide them with so many op­por­tu­ni­ties. An ob­vi­ous al­ter­na­tive is to utilise their back three. But how loose are Mun­ster pre­pared to be­come to get Si­mon Zebo fly­ing?

Fi­nally, a word on Gir­van Dempsey. What an op­por­tu­nity for him and his fam­ily head­ing to Bath where this is a to­tal win for Todd Black­ad­der. Get­ting a backs coach of the cal­i­bre of Dempsey is enor­mous; that he is com­ing from Le­in­ster is an added bonus not lost, I’d imag­ine, on the en­tire English Pre­mier­ship. When at first you can’t beat them, poach them! liamtoland@ya­hoo.com

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