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'Earlsy and Conway working off the ball, that was really good, even Tadhg's line'

Johann van Graan was pleased with Munster’s decision-making last weekend against Connacht.

ANDREW CONWAY’S 111 running metres.

Joey Carbery’s four defenders beaten. Two try assists for Alby Mathewson.

Keith Earls’ four offloads. Five of the starting pack averaging two metres per carry or more. And a try-scoring bonus point for Munster.

The stats told a tale of how Johann van Graan’s side impressed in attack against Connacht last weekend, though the numbers weren’t required for Munster fans to get excited.

Ahead of Friday’s vital Heineken Cup visit to Gloucester on Friday, the hope will be that Munster’s improvement in possession last weekend was a sign of things to come in Europe.

Although Chris Farrell is a major doubt, Munster are expected to welcome Conor Murray, Rory Scannell, CJ Stander, Chris Cloete and Mike Haley into their starting XV for Friday and will be keen to continue to move forward with their attack and game management.

“Mostly our decision-making,” says van Graan when asked what pleased him most about Munster’s attack against Connacht.

“We got into shape pretty well and then the decision-makers, between Alby, Joey and Andrew specifically… I think we played some very threatening attacking rugby between the two 10-metre lines.

“Once we brought their wings up and isolated their fullback, I thought we pinned them down in their 22 [with kicks] and it was pivotal against Connacht because of their lineout threat.

“Most of their lineouts were inside their own 22; they could have run it but they kicked it out most of the time to us and I thought our maul came into the game and what we did off the maul was really good.

“We had a balance between kicking it in behind and actually playing as well, and I thought Joey’s try was a good example of that.”

Indeed, Munster’s kicking was superb throughout last weekend’s clash with Connacht, starting with this effort from Farrell in the opening minute.

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This early example illustrates what van Graan means by ‘bringing their wings up,’ as Munster cleverly kick off second receiver, rather than out-half Carbery.

Carbery did obviously kick from hand in this game but it was noticeable that every other member of the backline contributed kicks too.

By shifting the ball to Farrell in midfield, Munster draw up Connacht right wing Cian Kelleher.

Kelleher is concerned about Munster passing towards the touchline and has begun to advance upfield when Farrell kicks in behind him, forcing Kelleher [14 below] to turn and chase back. Fullback Darragh Leader [15] has too much ground to cover and can’t collect the ball.

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Farrell’s kick reaches touch for excellent territorial gain and a chance to pressure the Connacht lineout, but Munster also rolled two excellent kicks down the 15m channels to force Connacht players into touch before Peter O’Mahony and Carbery’s tries. 

Smart tactical play.

Once Munster had possession inside the Connacht 22, van Graan took pleasure from their clinical edge.

“That was the best that we’ve executed inside our opponent’s 22 for a while,” says the Munster boss.

“I thought we were really direct whilst having options off nine, 10 and 12. Pete [O'Mahony]‘s try was a good example of that, going through the phases, having real patience and if you just look at Earlsy and Andrew Conway working off the ball, that was really good, even Tadhg [Beirne]‘s line.

“That comes with continuity and putting a focus on it and we’re really happy with the four tries we scored.”

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The work of Earls and Conway off the ball was excellent in this case.

We can see Earls communicating with Conway just after Farrell has made a strong carry in midfield.

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Carbery has worked around the corner to act as first receiver and benefits from the early organisation of Earls and Conway outside him.

Meanwhile, Beirne is running an excellent late line [white below] close in to the ruck, just attracting Connacht’s eyes back into that area.

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Mathewson feeds Carbery and he comes under pressure from the fast-advancing Jack Carty. 

Outside Carbery, Conway runs a superb line to the inside of next defender Caolin Blade, offering Carbery a ‘front-door’ option [white below].

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Conway’s line serves to attract Blade [circled in green above] and means he can’t fade off Conway and deal with Earls, who is bouncing out behind Conway [red] to offer Carbery the back-door option.

With Blade in a difficult situation, Carbery makes a good decision and passes to Earls, who rounds Blade – the Connacht scrum-half slips as he attempts to recover from being drawn in on Conway.

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Carty might reflect that he could have got into the offloading channel a little earlier but Earls is able to take the tackle from Kelleher and hang up the offload for O’Mahony – who just gets to the ball ahead of Carty.

All in all, a delightful score for Munster.

Carbery’s excellence as first receiver is obvious here, while he also showed his class in the fullback position later in the game for his own try.

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Carbery is clearly Munster’s first-choice out-half but it was interesting to note how he linked well with replacement Tyler Bleyendaal in this instance and on other occasions in the closing 20 minutes.

Bleyendaal remains short of his best form and made errors against Connacht but the multi-playmaker model is certainly something that van Graan is keen for Munster to harness.

“I like to have two 10s on the field, whether it’s at 10 and 12 or 10 and 15 and that’s why we got Mike Haley, similar to Zeebs [Simon Zebo] when he comes into that first and second receiver role,” explains the Munster head coach.

“So, it’s fantastic to have that quality of Joey and Tyler alongside each other and I think their try was a good example of it. Earlier in the season when Joey came from the bench we moved JJ [Hanrahan] to 15 so it’s great to have those options around.

“There’s certain decision-makers in a game, in my opinion, that makes teams tick and 10 and 15 are two of those and the fact we might have Rory [Scannell] back this week as well if he’s selected and then 10, 12 and 15, if we end up that way it’s brilliant.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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