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Stopping the offload and O'Mahony's breakdown work the keys for Munster

Grenoble skills coach and former Munster scrum-half Mike Prendergast discusses the strengths of Toulouse.

O'Connell and O'Mahony are both breakdown specialists.
O'Connell and O'Mahony are both breakdown specialists.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Following on from yesterday morning’s look at Toulon, Grenoble skills coach and former Munster scrum-half Mike Prendergast joins TheScore.ie to discuss Toulouse, who play his former province tomorrow at Thomond Park.

MUNSTER HAVE BEEN served due warning all week long that Toulouse love to offload the ball.

Paul O’Connell spoke about the threat that the Top 14 side pose in that regard, while the province’s performance analysis team has prepared Munster in detail for les Toulousains’ offloading prowess.

Grenoble had to adjust for the same danger when they played Guy Novès’ men last November. A 26-18 victory at the Stade des Alpes was the reward for their efforts in preventing the Toulouse attack from truly flourishing.

Toulouse still play quite a high-risk game with their offloading,” says Prendergast. “They can afford to play that offloading game with some of the ball-carriers that they have, some of the monsters they have. So I think for Munster it’s about winning those collisions and not allowing Toulouse to get into their offloading.”

Winning the first-up contact is a crucial aspect of preventing the offload, but as Prendergast has pointed out, the sheer bulk of many of the Toulouse carriers makes that a difficult process. Sometimes doubling up in the tackle is the only way to go.

“Teams often go with one tackler low in the chop and another guy tagging the ball. I think it’s something Munster have to be aware of, because Toulouse are a confidence team. They’re the type of team that if those passes stick, they will get going.

Mike Prendergast Prendergast in action for Munster in 2008. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“I know it’s a bit old-school, but getting stuck in and getting in amongst them, upsetting them is important. By getting a chop and a tag on the ball, that will hopefully nullify that type of game.”

Another aspect that may help in halting Toulouse’s ability to complete offloads is slowing the ball at source, therefore allowing the home defence time to get into more favourable tackling positions. As ever, the breakdown will be a key battle ground and Prendergast points to one crucial man for Munster in that area.

“The back row balance is going to be massive and I think Peter O’Mahony is going to be a key, key guy if he plays. He showed in the Six Nations what he can do. He’s a player who, especially in Thomond Park, mixes it with the opposition and he gets good poaches.

Worst case scenario, he manages to slow the ball down. I think he’s the key and, overall, the balance in the back row is going to be important. Munster have been very clever and constructive in terms of the breakdown and that needs to continue.”

The expected return of Luke McAlister will be a major boost for Toulouse, with Prendergast pointing out that “he does give them a bit of direction” even if he is a very individual player. The recently fit-again Florian Fritz is another man cited by Prendergast as a strong influence, given his Heineken Cup experience.

As for breaking down the Toulouse defence – which is the second best in the Top 14 this season so far – Prendergast believes that using runners off the scrum-half at a high tempo may allow Munster to make early gains.

Conor Murray Prendergast believes Munster could benefit from playing off Murray. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Not that a total abandonment of the wider patterns is required.

“Munster could look to play off nine a small bit more, with quick ball. Conor Murray is a guy who can bring that, but obviously the collisions have to be won, and the breakdown.

“You’ve got to look back to last year’s quarter-final against Harlequins and this weekend, they’re going to have to score tries. It might be useful to revert back to playing off nine a bit more, getting their forwards into the game early. Obviously, when Munster get good carries, you then identify where they space is after that.”

Home advantage plays a major role in Heineken Cup quarter-finals, with a 75% win rate for the host sides over the 17 years of the competition. Prendergast mentions that Toulouse have deep fondness for Munster and their achievements, similarly to the rest of the country.

I think the Thomond Park factor will have a lot to play in it. They have huge, huge respect for Munster. Munster are actually really loved in France.

“There’s huge respect for them and even talking to guys like Shaun Sowerby and Nicolas Bézy, players at Grenoble but former Toulouse men, there’s real regard there. It’s good to see that Toulouse are bringing 3,000 supporters over, it’s going to be brilliant.”

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Murray Kinsella

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