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Carbery's class the key for Munster in evenly-matched Edinburgh tie

Johann van Graan’s men should be well-matched by Richard Cockerill’s Scots.

“WE’LL TRY AND out-Munster Munster, as we’re two sides that play quite similar rugby.”

That’s how Edinburgh boss Richard Cockerill views this afternoon’s Champions Cup quarter-final at Murrayfield [KO 12.45pm, Virgin Media/Channel 4/BT Sport] and it’s difficult to disagree.

Here are two sides who kick well, particularly from scrum-half. 

Conor Murray Murray starts at 9 for Munster. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Eight of Conor Murray’s kicks in this competition this season have resulted in opposition errors, while a further four have been regathered by his team-mates. 

Edinburgh scrum-half Henry Pyrgos is similarly effective with the boot, forcing seven errors from opponents under his box kicks, with another two won back.

Both sides possess ball-carrying quality, with the Scots boasting the tournament’s busiest carrier in number eight Viliame Mata, who has charged into contact 115 times. Munster’s CJ Stander is second on the list, although some distance behind on 88.

The two packs are aggressive propositions, with the Irish province’s Peter O’Mahony and Tadhg Beirne leading a ceaseless quest for turnovers, the second row topping that chart with 13 and captain O’Mahony having six so far, as well as a further five lineout steals.

Hamish Watson, who forms a mean-looking Edinburgh back row with Mata and John Barclay – man of the match against Leinster last weekend on his return from a long-term Achilles tendon injury – boasts seven turnovers so far. 

The set-piece contest will be riveting. Edinburgh, with an excellent second row of Grant Gilchrist and Ben Toolis have hit 90% in the lineout in Europe this season, while Munster will be looking for improvement after winning 79% of their throws.

Edinburgh lock Toolis sits top of the lineout steals list along with O’Mahony on five, so expect an extreme contest out of touch.

Ben Toolis and Sean Cronin Ben Toolis is a key man for Edinburgh. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

Johann van Graan’s men had the most frugal defence of any team in the competition during their pool run, conceding an average of just 12 points per game and only 1.5 tries.

Edinburgh, unsurprisingly, weren’t far off that standard, with only Munster and Saracens being stingier in defence than Richard Cockerill’s team.  

The scrum should be evenly matched too, with Edinburgh’s front row made up of captain Stuart McInally, fellow Scotland international WP Nel and the in-form South African loosehead prop Pierre Schoeman.  

Munster have Test quality of their own, of course, with Dave Kilcoyne having enjoyed an excellent Six Nations. He teams up with John Ryan and hooker Niall Scannell, with Beirne and the ever-aggressive Jean Kleyn pushing from behind.

The maul will be another key battleground at Murrayfield. Both sides take pride in the inches won at maul time and it’s one area where Munster’s Jack O’Donoghue – selected at openside after a brilliant performance last weekend against Zebre – generally excels.

It feels like this will be a dogfight of a game, with vicious collisions, a few flare-ups after the whistle, and a general ferocity in all aspects.

Who can break through the brawn?

Joey Carbery makes his way down the tunnel Carbery extended his contract through to 2022 earlier this week. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Joey Carbery – fresh from extending his Munster contract until June 2022 – seems an ideal candidate, having been passed fit for his first appearance since playing for Ireland against Scotland at this same stadium seven weeks ago.

It’s been a long stint on the sidelines with a hamstring injury but Carbery’s ability to break defences with his running, attacking kicking and passing could be the key.

The backline outside him appears stronger than Edinburgh’s, with the glue-like Rory Scannell teaming up with Chris Farrell in midfield. Farrell’s ability to attract multiple defenders and pass as well as carry makes him an important figure.

Munster’s back three of Keith Earls, Andrew Conway and Mike Haley provides finishing quality and defensive nous.

Breakout Scotland star Darcy Graham – who punches well above his weight and has made 12 linebreaks in this tournament – is at fullback for Edinburgh in Blair Kinghorn’s injury absence, while South African flyer Duhan van der Merwe – 10 clean breaks – is a thrilling attacking threat too.

James Johnstone’s footwork must be respected in Edinburgh’s 13 shirt, but Munster might feel they have the more incisive backline – if their pack can provide the platform for them to display as much.

Goal-kicking may be vital and with Carbery kicking at 84% off the tee so far in this competition and Edinburgh’s Jaco van der Walt not far behind on 80%, even that area should be close.

Richard Cockerill Cockerilll has been earning praise for his work at Edinburgh. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

Both benches offer quality, with Cockerill able to call on current Scotland international front rows Allan Dell and Simon Berghan, exciting backs Simon Hickey and Mark Bennett, and dynamic back row pair Magnus Bradbury and Jamie Ritchie.

Munster, meanwhile, have the in-form Alby Mathewson to back-up Murray, while Tyler Bleyendaal showed up well off the bench against Zebre last weekend. Billy Holland was a vital impact sub during the closing games of the pool stages.

With Munster playing in the knock-out stages of this competition for the 18th time, versus Edinburgh’s third, history indicates that the visiting Irish province will be better equipped to rise to this occasion.

Edinburgh, however, will believe they are the coming team, having built impressively under Cockerill and enjoying the advantage of playing at home again, where they have lost only once this season.

After the superb performance in hammering Gloucester away in January set a new standard for van Graan’s side, a Munster win in Edinburgh today would strongly underline that they are now a true European force.

Edinburgh:

15. Darcy Graham
14. Damien Hoyland
13. James Johnstone
12. Chris Dean
11. Duhan van der Merwe
10. Jaco van der Walt
9. Henry Pyrgos

1. Pierre Schoeman
2. Stuart McInally (captain)
3. WP Nel
4. Ben Toolis
5. Grant Gilchrist
6. John Barclay
7. Hamish Watson
8. Viliame Mata

Replacements:

16. Ross Ford
17. Allan Dell
18. Simon Berghan
19. Magnus Bradbury
20. Jamie Ritchie
21. Charlie Shiel
22. Simon Hickey
23. Mark Bennett

Munster:

15. Mike Haley
14. Andrew Conway
13. Chris Farrell
12. Rory Scannell
11. Keith Earls
10. Joey Carbery
9. Conor Murray

1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Niall Scannell
3. John Ryan
4. Jean Kleyn
5. Tadhg Beirne
6. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
7. Jack O’Donoghue
8. CJ Stander

Replacements:

16. Rhys Marshall
17. Jeremy Loughman
18. Stephen Archer
19. Billy Holland
20. Arno Botha
21. Alby Mathewson
22. Tyler Bleyendaal
23. Dan Goggin

Referee: Pascal Gauzère [France].

Murray Kinsella and Bernard Jackman look ahead to a huge weekend for the provinces in Europe and Ryan Bailey catches up with Ian Keatley on the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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