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Dublin: 11 °C Saturday 23 February, 2019
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Munster excited about potential of their improving attacking game

The likes of Keith Earls and Simon Zebo enjoyed playing on the artificial pitch in Paris.

CJ STANDER’S SIMPLE link pass in the build-up to Chris Farrell’s try, Keith Earls’ offload and then Simon Zebo’s majestic one-handed tip-on pass to Andrew Conway, energetic quick-tap penalties and more.

Virimi Vakatawa with Keith Earls who offloads to Simon Zebo Earls gets his offload away. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

While Munster came up short in frustrating circumstances in Paris on Saturday, there were plenty of positives for Johann van Graan’s side and most notably in terms of their attacking play.

The major weakness of the southern province’s revival under Rassie Erasmus last season was their attacking game, and one of Johann van Graan’s key objectives as Erasmus’ successor is to add an edge in that department.

“When I accepted the job that was one of the things that I targeted,” said van Graan in Paris after the 34-30 defeat to Racing 92.

“From what I saw of Munster last year, they got so close in that semi-final against Saracens and then the Scarlets played very well in that final – but you need an all-round game.

“So we’re working very hard as a squad on our attack, on our passing ability. I thought the breakdown was very good, although it can still improve.”

There appears to be excitement amongst the players too, with van Graan and attack coach Felix Jones apparently freeing them up to take slightly greater risks with their decision-making in phase play.

The evidence of the young South African coach’s intelligence around set-piece plays has been obvious too, with Conor Murray jumping in lineouts and Munster scoring directly on first phase from scrums.

“I think we’ve done that earlier in the season but it just didn’t come off, but I think Johann has brought some new things in,” said number eight CJ Stander. “I think ‘Mur’ jumping in a few lineouts a few weeks ago is something that he has brought in.

Felix Jones and Johann van Graan Attack coach Felix Jones and van Graan have plans for further improvement. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I think he gives players confidence to try something. I think I’ve probably made more passes in certain positions in the game. He gives you that confidence to try something and make sure that you bring something more to the game.

“Yeah, look, I think we attacked well. The [artificial] pitch gave us the chance to make the most of those opportunities, to put in a bit more passes. Chris Farrell ran some unbelievable lines and the whole backline play was exceptional.”

Indeed, Munster’s backline thrilled at times in the impressive U Arena. The aforementioned Earls offload and Zebo flick were highlights, but there were clear missed chances after fine build-up play too.

Earls’ offload back inside to Murray after darting down the left-hand touchline was just too powerful for the scrum-half to hold, while Conway didn’t take his split-second chance to pass wide to the unmarked Earls on the right-hand side in the opening half.

Van Graan was encouraged but he believes there is much more potential left in this Munster backline.

“I was actually sitting there with the backs [after the game] and they know they probably left one or two chances out there, but they’re also excited about what we created against a pretty world-class back line,” said van Graan.

“So there’s a lot of potential. Every week it’s about decision-making and finishing every chance and we’re still waiting for that perfect game. It still needs to improve for next week.”

Being more clinical this weekend against Castres at Thomond Park will be essential as Munster look for the win that will seal their Champions Cup quarter-final place.

Simon Zebo with Maxime Machenaud 14/1/2018 Zebo will be looking for more opportunities against Castres. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

If the backline can score tries freely, van Graan won’t be complaining, given that a bonus-point win could potentially give them a home knock-out tie.

The South African is excited about what his team can go on to achieve in attack and he’s enthused simply to be part of this thrilling Champions Cup.

“It’s the first time that I’m part of this competition,” he said.

“I said to the lads in there, it just shows what an amazing competition this is. Over six rounds, I’ll take it back to when I wasn’t even at Munster – that draw against Castres away when they had one or two opportunities to kick at goal and then the 14-7 win [over Racing] at Thomond Park and the wins at home and away against Leicester – it’s just an unbelievable competition.

“That’s what we love and want to embrace. The players want to play in big games and this is a big game at home. We can’t wait.”

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Murray Kinsella

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