Zebo's sensational try shows Munster's attacking confidence is growing

Peter O’Mahony and the forwards enjoyed watching their backline rip the Ospreys apart.

WHEN YOU ASK Peter O’Mahony how nice it was for Munster’s forwards to see the backline create and finish Simon Zebo’s stunning try against the Ospreys, he closes his eyes for a second.

The image of Keith Earls, Francis Saili, Conor Murray, Andrew Conway and Zebo combining appears to flash into O’Mahony’s mind and he exhales as if remembering how fatigued he was in those moments.

Simon Zebo celebrates scoring a try Munster celebrate their game-breaking try against the Ospreys. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The try came after an intense period of Munster pressure in the Ospreys’ 22, the forwards having hammered at the tryline as the attempted to crack the Welsh defence and genuinely break the game by extending their 8-3 lead.

But replacement centre Jaco Taute was stripped of the ball in contact and Justin Tipuric hacked it away into Munster’s half. The forwards trundled back up the pitch in concern, only to watch Zebo score 15 seconds later.

Oh, it was lovely,” says O’Mahony with a smile. “We were blowing.

“We were working hard down in their 22 and I think someone got reefed and got a ball pulled up. You’re trucking back 50 metres and all of a sudden you’re receiving a restart. It’s a lovely feeling to have.”

The fact that Munster generally have to work so hard for their tries made this score all the more pleasing for the province. There was hard work involved, as we will see below, but it was a different kind of try for Munster.

[image alt="Work Rate" src="" width="630" height="312" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

We see the turnover and kick clear by the Ospreys in the clip above, but also the initial work rate from Munster to retreat.

The Munster backs obviously have an advantage in being closer to the ball after Tipuric kicks, but their effort to work back is impressive.

[image alt="Backs" src="" width="630" height="314" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

All the key players are on the move in the shot above, getting the hard work done early and putting themselves into position to support the ball.

We can see that Conway is all the way over on the right for Munster, underlining just how much ground he covers in order to support the subsequent attack, assisting the try.

There’s intelligence in amongst the effort even here.

[image alt="Switch" src="" width="630" height="333" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

Conway [white above] is quicker than Bleyendaal [red] and he is therefore going to be better equipped to get close to the ball.

So the out-half heads towards the right-hand side of Munster’s backfield to provide an outlet for a possible counter-attack into that area of the pitch. It’s a small detail, but it shows players thinking through their roles, and possibly communicating, as they move.

Earls makes his retrieval of the ball safe by going to ground to gather it in- tucking it into his left arm and freeing his right to push himself off the ground and then possibly fend.

As Earls rises, we see the 29-year-old’s excellent acceleration as he darts to the chasing Keelan Giles’ right shoulder.

[image alt="Hands" src="" width="630" height="312" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

Earls is fond of an offload – he had two others in this game – and finds Saili in this instance, passing out of the tackle.

It’s Saili’s excellent work rate that has him in this position in the first place and his big effort to sprint back now means he has time to attack with the kind of space that is a rarity for a midfielder in more structured play.

The Ospreys’ secondary chasing line [yellow below] is poorly organised and that provides an invitation for Saili.

[image alt="Chase" src="" width="630" height="337" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

We can see that Ashley Beck [12], Brendon Leonard [9] and Alun Wyn Jones [5] aren’t connected and the disjoint allows Saili to burst forward, beat Beck with a beautiful side step, power through Leonard and then ride Jones’ tackle as the lock stretches out to grasp the Munster centre.

It’s important to note that Earls has fought to stay on his feet in Giles’ tackle attempt.

[image alt="Earls" src="" width="630" height="355" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

Earls is circled in white above and it’s obvious that had he gone to ground in this instance, Murray wouldn’t have had an outlet on the left touchline.

Again, the easy thing for Earls to do here is allow himself to fall to deck in Giles’ weak tackle attempt. He has covered lots of ground to sprint back and it’s unlikely that anyone would have called him up for going to deck in the tackle.

Instead, Earls is hungry for a second touch and in the image above we can see that Zebo and Murray have worked back in search of involvement.

[image alt="Murray" src="" width="630" height="312" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

Murray works to Saili’s left shoulder and the centre, having used his footwork effectively, is in a good position to offload safely, one of his four offloads against the Ospreys.

This brief passage shows how Saili can bring something different to the plate for Munster and it’s a shame for the province that injury and last season’s poor collective form deprived him of further opportunities to showcase his attacking quality.

Murray’s catch-pass in this instance is superb. He claps for the ball and has his hands outstretched, ready to receive the ball and sweep it across his body in one smooth motion, maintaining eye contact with Beck to ensure he sits the Ospreys defender down.

It’s a lovely bit of skill from a player who doesn’t get too many opportunities like this in his regular duties, and it’s encouraging to see that Murray does possess this instinctive attacking ability in broken play.

While Murray is putting Earls away down the left, it’s worth noting where Zebo and Conway are.

[image alt="15 14" src="" width="630" height="333" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

Zebo is circled in white above, having just about kept his feet after stumbling over Leonard on the ground after his missed tackle on Saili. Again, there’s sheer eagerness for a touch here, a desire to support team-mates.

Meanwhile, Conway [red above] is tracking from the inside and he sniffs his opportunity here, bursting onto the accelerator as soon as Earls catches and runs into space on the left.

[image alt="Earls" src="" width="630" height="312" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

Here, we see the brilliance of the off-the-ball work from Conway and Zebo.

Rather comically, Zebo even pushes Murray out of his way in his exuberance to get in support of Earls, as marked below.

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[image alt="Shove" src="" width="630" height="376" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

Murray does well to keep his feet and work hard to get towards Earl’s left shoulder, even if he is not going to play any further part.

[image alt="WR" src="" width="630" height="335" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

It’s still fine work rate from Murray to stay alive on that side of Earls, adding to the stress for the defence and giving his wing support in the event that he is tackled or needs to offload to his left.

Earls draws Dan Biggar towards him and now we see the value of the work rate from Zebo and Conway to his right.

[image alt="Finish" src="" width="630" height="312" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

Earls’ pass is not perfect but Conway gathers it well at high speed and keeps the ball in two hands, drawing in Dan Evans.

We can see that Earls is once again alive over on Conway’s left shoulder, but Zebo is the obvious target back on Evans’ inside, meaning the Ospreys fullback is going to have to turn back infield after the pass.

[image alt="Zeebs" src="" width="630" height="312" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

Zebo skillfully reels the pass in with his left hand, before switching the ball to his right to ensure he can fend Evans if required.

Tom Habberfield arrives in from Zebo’s right as he reaches the five-metre line but momentum is on Zebo’s side and the Munster fullback is able to finish a stunning kick return try.

Munster have become a team known for their incredibly effective defence under Jacques Nienaber’s watch this season, but this score was evidence that their backline can strike clinically too.

As the province continue to develop in the coming seasons, they will look to encourage more of this kind of intent and execution in unstructured situations, which occur so frequently in rugby.

“The defence always shows how tight a team is, how hard they work for one another,” says director of rugby Rassie Erasmus when asked about this try. “You look at a defence and you can see if a team is tight – are they buddies, are they playing for one another?

“Attack is confidence, attack takes self-belief because there are so many variables and when you get attack right like Earlsie did with Zeebs, everybody that was involved like Francis, that shows confidence.

“Confidence always takes a bit longer. With defence, you can fix it immediately

“The defensive system, you don’t really have to have talent, you just have to believe in the system. The nice thing about those attacking things is that the team are starting to believe in one another, and hopefully next weekend we can do the same.”

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Murray Kinsella

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