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'We’ve done things you won’t have seen Munster do in the previous few years'

Despite signs of attacking development, Munster slipped up at home in Europe.

FILING OUT OF Thomond Park on a chilly winter evening on Saturday, there was obvious disappointment among the Munster faithful after their side came up just short of victory against the clinical Racing 92, but there were flickers of optimism in their conversations too.

Many of them were discussing the moments of exciting attacking intent in Munster’s 21-21 draw, with clear signs of the direction new senior coach Stephen Larkham is keen to push his players in.

Munster offloaded 12 times to Racing’s 10 – they did, admittedly, have far more possession – and it was notable how many of those passes out of contact were laden with risk.

jj-hanrahan-makes-a-break Munster played some encouraging attacking rugby against Racing. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

At times, Munster were loose but there were many moments of impressive attacking play, not limited only to offloading.

Advantage was playing for Andrew Conway’s late try, but even still the double skip-pass from JJ Hanrahan was thrilling for their supporters to see. The build-up to Keith Earls’ try featured good passing skills from Hanrahan and Mike Haley, who also counter-attacked effectively for Munster as his excellent season continued.

There was more clever play from set-piece, with a particularly inventive lineout strike move in the second half involving Earls at first receiver ending up with Haley making lots of ground before Racing infringed. 

Munster’s attack didn’t always work but even seeing Peter O’Mahony offloading to Racing’s Antonie Claassen deep in his own half underlined that there is a shift in mindset happening within Johann van Graan’s squad.

They will hope there is much more and much better to come, but the players are certainly enjoying the attacking focus under Larkham.

“It has been great, it’s been really refreshing,” said O’Mahony on Saturday. “He has definitely given us licence to go and play some ball which is really enjoyable.”

Head coach van Graan, meanwhile, is very excited about where his team is going on the attacking front.

“From a Munster growth point of view, we as coaches just spoke inside that some of the things we’ve done tonight are things you won’t have seen Munster do in the previous few years,” said van Graan after the draw against Racing.

stephen-larkham-during-the-warm-up Larkham is proving to be a popular addition in Munster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“That one lineout where we went off the top, it’s something you wouldn’t have seen from us before. I said a few weeks ago that you’ve got to give this coaching team some time. We’ve only been together for a few weeks and we are looking long-term and looking to improve the team and looking to improve the skills of this team.

“So yes, we are going to throw one or two [passes] that are going to lead to turnovers and if you look from a clinical rugby point of view, we have done some incredible stuff over the last few weeks and that will take time, but we are encouraging the players to use their skills and to improve their skills.

“One of the things we’ve said is, ‘If you don’t train it, don’t do it’ and we’ve trained quite a few things and we did it tonight and we’re looking forward to the nights and weeks where that will click and hopefully that will be soon and hopefully this team will keep on improving.”

Despite signs of attacking development on Saturday, Munster ultimately slipped up at home and though they were proud of clawing back a draw and very nearly stealing the win with Hanrahan’s late drop-goal attempt, they have lots of work to do now in Pool 4 of the Champions Cup.

O’Mahony admitted that “it’s not ideal” for Munster to have failed to secure a precious home win, and he rued some “mental lapses” from his team in defence against Racing, putting his hand up for missing a tackle on the superb Finn Russell.

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Next up in Europe are back-to-back ties with reigning champions Saracens in December. The English side have been handed a 35-point deduction in the Premiership, of course, with director of rugby Mark McCall suggesting that could see them prioritising domestic matters over their Champions Cup campaign.

Van Graan, however, is taking that suggestion with more than a pinch of salt.

“I’ll take that with a bowl of salt,” said the Munster boss. “Just looking at the players that played tonight [in Saracens' 44-3 win over the Ospreys], you’ve got Elliot Daly starting at 15, so that’s not your second-string side.

peter-omahony-speaks-to-his-team Munster will face Saracens in next month's back-to-back ties. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We’ll regroup, we’ll just take stock. Obviously, with the Irish lads coming from the World Cup, some guys might rest this week – we’ve got to manage them. We’re back to the Pro14, a big game against Edinburgh and then in two weeks’ time, we’ve got Saracens at home.

“Whatever happened tonight or whatever happens to them, Saracens home and away was always going to be tough. They are such a fantastic rugby side.

“This is Europe and we’ve got the European champions home and away in round three and four. I guess from a spectator point of view, what more can you ask for?” 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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