Steve Haag Sports/INPHO Gavin Coombes and Jack Crowley in Durban.
While others ponder Munster's future, they have to get better right now
Graham Rowntree’s side repeatedly shot themselves in the foot against the Sharks.

WHILE OTHERS PONDER how Munster can start closing the gap to the best teams in the Champions Cup and URC next season, Graham Rowntree and the squad themselves have more urgent matters to deal with.

Although they’re out of the Champions Cup after Saturday’s battering from the Sharks, the southern province need to arrest their sudden slide before the URC resumes in a fortnight.

Munster are fifth in the table with two regular-season games remaining and therefore, it would be easy to think that they’re well-placed to secure the top seven finish needed to qualify for next season’s Champions Cup and make the URC play-offs. Missing out on the Champions Cup next season would be a huge blow for the province.

The issue is that Munster have to return to South Africa for those two games, with visits to the Stormers and Sharks to come. The Stormers are second and the Sharks are eighth in the league, so these are two seriously difficult fixtures, especially when factoring in the hot, humid conditions Munster struggled with last weekend.

So rather than only looking to the longer-term future, Munster have to find a fresh injection of momentum without delay. When they review the Sharks defeat, the most frustrating aspect will be that they handed the South Africans so many opportunities.

Everyone makes errors but teams who make them back-to-back suffer the most. Munster repeatedly produced these strings of mistakes, albeit largely due to the pressure the Sharks applied.

graham-rowntree James Crombie / INPHO Munster boss Graham Rowntree faces another big challenge. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

So let’s underline the fact that Neil Powell’s side were impressive in Durban before we move onto Munster’s woes. The Sharks’ power was notable, their defence stressed Munster at times, and they were ruthless aside from one incredible missed try-scoring chance in the second half when Curwin Bosch made a bizarre decision to try an overhead pass back inside when he just needed to pass to the two-man overlap on his left.

The Sharks have a star-studded squad and even in saying all of that, you never quite felt like they had to get into top gear as Munster handed them chances.

Take the Sharks’ second try as an example. Munster are attacking on the Shark’s 10-metre line when the ball goes to ground.


Malakai Fekitoa seems to think Craig Casey’s pass is intended for someone a little wider and leaves it. We can see Casey’s frustration at Fekitoa not gathering the ball.

It’s an error and Munster need to react well but instead, they get turned over.


Antoine Frisch gathers on the bounce and cuts back infield to carry, but Munster’s lack of urgency to the breakdown is jarring.

Casey has been remonstrating with Fekitoa, who is slow to follow Frisch, while Jean Kleyn is coming from in front of the ball without any great urgency. Gavin Coombes is the closest player coming from the inside but he opts against hitting the breakdown.

The Sharks don’t need a second invitation, with number eight Sikhumbuzo Notshe counter-rucking to open up the turnover chance for back row partner Vincent Tshituka. It’s passive stuff from Munster and this is still only the 22nd minute of the game.

With Munster trying to scramble to organise their defence after turning the ball over, the Sharks kick and the retreating Calvin Nash knocks the ball on in the backfield, seemingly blinded by the sun.


It’s a string of back-to-back-to-back errors from Munster and now gives the Sharks a chance to fire up their powerful set-piece. They win a penalty at the scrum, kick into the corner, earn a maul penalty advantage, and blast over to score through Eben Etzebeth.

Clearly, there’s loads of excellent work from the Sharks involved here but Munster’s errors allow them to thrive.

The same applied for essentially the entire third quarter of the game as Munster went from trailing 17-14 to the game being completely over at 41-14. It was as disastrous a quarter of rugby as Munster have played.

The problems were clear. Munster gave up another breakdown turnover just over a minute into the second half as they attacked just outside the Sharks’ 22.


Hooker Niall Scannell carries into Ox Nché’s tackle and probably needs to work harder here to prevent the Sharks prop from having a shot at the ball. Meanwhile, prop Stephen Archer and wing Shane Daly are initially hesitant in hitting the breakdown.

Having made the tackle, Nché should have never have such an opportunity to instantly jackal. He just about shows enough release to ensure referee Wayne Barnes is content, but then Munster magnify the turnover by giving up a penalty for hands in the ruck that ensues.

Now they’re suddenly defending a maul and after brilliant initial work to fight his way through the middle of the Sharks maul, Kleyn collapses it to give up another penalty.


We’ve seen others get away with similar in the past but back-to-back-to-back errors mean Munster are now defending another maul on their 22-metre line.

Again, they concede a penalty as RG Snyman comes in from the side.


Again, we must highlight that the Sharks’ maul threat is causing Munster stress here, but their discipline is still within their own control.

The Sharks go back into touch a few metres from the Munster tryline and with the visitors opting to go up for a steal attempt through captain Peter O’Mahony, they’re poorly set to defend the Sharks maul and hooker Bongi Mbonambi scores.

Munster absolutely need to deliver a convincing response to that Sharks try but, once again, they’re turned over at the breakdown within two minutes.

This time, prop Dave Kilcoyne is completely isolated as Casey bounces back against the grain just two phases into Munster’s possession from kick receipt.


It’s total disorganisation from Munster. Two forwards – Scannell and Snyman – fold around the corner to Casey’s right but Kilcoyne holds on the left as flanker John Hodnett moves to keep width on the touchline.

Clearly, none of the Munster backs expect Kilcoyne to be carrying either, so Mike Haley and Nash are very late to arrive at the breakdown. Mbonambi has already won the turnover. This Kilcoyne carry is the opposite of a team all being on the same page.

Again, the Sharks kick the turnover into Munster’s 22, where they win another breakdown turnover via their counter-rucking, then another penalty as Jack Crowley is pinged for playing the ball while off his feet. Into the corner the Sharks go and it’s another maul try.

The next Sharks try seems familiar, with Kilcoyne’s offload going loose, Munster reacting poorly to the error, getting turned over at the breakdown and being punished as Werner Kok scores on the turnover possession, albeit with a clearly forward pass missed.

Munster are now desperate and as they chase the game, the Sharks pick off more errors for another couple of tries, as in the case below as Makazole Mapimpi scores off Fekitoa’s offload.


It all made for grim watching for Rowntree and his assistants up in the coaching box in Durban.

The Munster boss had a seriously tough challenge at the start of this season as his team struggled to get wins amidst the drastic changes in playing style and training approach. He managed to weather that storm and Munster hit a purple patch.

However, they’ve been poor in their last two games against the Sharks and Glasgow, and also had a second-half collapse in their narrow win over Scarlets before that.

Still in his first season as a head coach, Rowntree must figure out how to arrest this recent slide if Munster are to secure Champions Cup rugby and drive on into the URC play-offs. The upcoming trip to South Africa is of monumental importance.

- This article was updated at 9.58pm to remove an additional ‘the’ from the opening sentence.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel