Ireland Women’s Squad Named For RBS 6 Nations

Extended Ireland Squad Announced

All over for Munster

Munster’s European season crumbles in comprehensive Saracens defeat

Anthony Foley’s men were hugely disappointing against the impressive Premiership side.

Chris Ashton scored two tries for Saracens at Allianz Park.

Chris Ashton scored two tries for Saracens at Allianz Park.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Saracens 33

Munster 10

MUNSTER’S EUROPEAN SEASON came to a definitive and depressing end at Allianz Park as Saracens excelled in a 33-10 victory.

Anthony Foley’s side delivered a hugely disappointing performance at the North London venue, finishing with a result that means they will fail to make the knock-out stages of the European competition for just the second time in 16 seasons.

A late try from Denis Hurley proved to be mere consolation and in truth the balance of the 80 minutes meant Munster probably deserved nothing more from the game. A home tie against Sale Sharks next weekend now becomes meaningless and Munster’s attention will turn to the Guinness Pro12.

While Munster will regret their own failings, Saracens will be buoyed by an energetic, intelligent and imposing display, reaffirming their pre-season status as strong contenders in this tournament.

A disastrous first-half left Foley’s men trailing 23-3, as a high error count fed right into the hands of the highly-accurate Saracens.

Munster’s knock-ons, missed tackles, kicks out on the full and poor reorganisation in defence constrated starkly with Saracens’ aggressive linespeed, crisp passing and variety in attack.

A poor decision from Duncan Williams in attempting to run the ball out of his own 22, very much going against the Munster game plan of kicking back at Sarries, led to the opening score from the boot of Owen Farrell.

Duncan Williams

Scrum-half Williams had a difficult first half.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Denis Hurley went off his feet in desperation as he attempted to retrieve the situation when Ashton caught Williams, allowing England international out-half Farrell to slot his first shot at goal.

Foley’s men looked to dominate territory through the kicking of Williams and Ian Keatley thereafter, but another error resulted in Saracens’ first try. Keatley looked for the corner, but his low kick rolled all the way dead and gave the home side a scrum on Munster’s 10-metre line.

Mako Vunipola and the front row powered forward, laying the foundation for an impressive Saracens attack that saw Chris Wyles finish in the corner. Farrell’s screen pass to Chris Ashton, after Andrew Conway bit in on the decoy-running Billy Vunipola, freed the ball for a three-on-one in the wide left channel, Alex Goode sending Wyles over.

Farrell’s conversion made it 10-0 with just 22 minutes gone, a lead he extended off the tee soon after, punishing Paul O’Connell’s excursion in the side of a Sarries maul.

Munster did register their first points of the tie on the 33-minute mark, Keatley slamming over a scrum penalty when referee Romain Poite got frustrated with Saracens’ early shove.

But the tide was far from turned, and yet another Munster mistake gave Saracens the platform. Felix Jones went off his feet at an attacking ruck near the halfway line, whereupon Richard Wigglersworth quick-tapped, released Marcelo Bosch and caught Munster napping.

Bosch sent Wyles bursting down the left wing, and when the American wing was hunted down, he dribbled a gorgeous grubber back inside for Ashton to fall on beyond the tryline. Again, Farrell was on target with his conversion.

Simon Zebo and Felix Jones tackle Chris Wyles of as he kicks the ball through for Chris Ashton to score a try

Wyles’ clever kick laid on a try for Chris Ashton.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Right on the stroke of half time, the mountain got that little steeper, as Farrell struck his third successful penalty to punish Dave Foley’s dragging down of a maul. That left Munster adrift at 23-3 and presumably facing a stinging word or two from head coach Foley.

That talking down looked to have found its mark as Munster burst out of the blocks when Simon Zebo cut Saracens open, running 30 metres into their 22 after busting the tackle of Petrus Du Plessis.

Munster hammered at the Sarries tryline, but Mako Vunipola came up with a superb turnover penalty, shrugging off the desperate rucking effort of O’Connell.

The Ireland captain’s out-of-sorts showing continued with a knock-on soon after, one which led to a lengthy spell of Saracens territory in the Munster half. Billy Vunipola produced one big break, while the maul and then the scrum went close.

Munster clung on and clung on until James Cronin was penalised at the scrum and Farrell kicked another penalty for a 26-3 lead. Munster’s discipline was falling apart at this stage, and scrum-half Williams got on Poite’s bad side on a number of occasions.

Farrell had his first miss off the tee when Williams came offside, but yet another handling error from Munster, this time between O’Connell and replacement Eusebio Guiñazú, put Munster immediately back under pressure.

Simon Zebo makes a break

Simon Zebo provided some rare attacking sparks for Munster.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Cronin attempted to rescue the situation, but Poite finally lost patience and sent the loosehead to the sin bin for a ruck infringement. Heading towards the final 13 minutes, Saracens went to the corner looking for another try, although they spilled their line-out.

That allowed Simon Zebo to burst upfield and draw a penalty for Billy Vunipola’s late tackle, although there was a brief interlude as Poite checked on potential foul play after Peter O’Mahony and Jacques Burger clashed.

The French match official saw nothing amiss and Munster kicked to touch, then played a clever line out move to send O’Mahony bursting through midfield and offloading to Hurley to charge to within metres of Sarries’ tryline.

Two short phases to the left followed, before Williams sent Hurley crashing over to the left of the posts to provide a glimpse of hope. Keatley’s conversion drew Munster back to 26-10.

But another late flurry from Saracens finished Munster off.

With Poite rolling on the ground in pain after taking an accidental knock off the ball, Ashton scooted over on the right untouched and got the opportunity to rub salt in Munster’s wounds with his ‘Ash Splash’ celebration.

Farrell popped over the conversion for a handsome 33-10 advantage heading into the closing minutes, one that was richly deserved and impossible to argue with.

Saracens scorers:

Tries: Chris Wyles, Chris Ashton [2]

Conversions: Owen Farrell [3 from 3]

Penalties: Owen Farrell [4 from 5]

Munster scorers:

Tries: Denis Hurley

Conversions: Ian Keatley [1 from 1]

Penalties: Ian Keatley [1 from 1]

SARACENS: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Marcelo Bosch (Ben Ransom ’75), Brad Barritt (Charlie Hodgson ’65), Chris Wyles; Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth (Neil de Kock ’65); Mako Vunipola (Richard Barrington ’67), Jamie George (Brett Sharman ’73), Petrus Du Plessis (James Johnston ’67); Jim Hamilton (Maro Itoje ’75), Alistair Hargreaves (capt.); Kelly Brown (Ernst Joubert ’67), Jacques Burger, Billy Vunipola.

MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Andrew Conway, Pat Howard (Keith Earls ’48), Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo (Ronan O’Mahony ’75); Ian Keatley (JJ Hanrahan ’75), Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Duncan Casey (Eusebio Guiñazú ’62), BJ Botha (Stephen Archer ’59); Dave Foley (Billy Holland ’75), Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony (capt.), Tommy O’Donnell (John Ryan ’67, O’Donnell back ’73), CJ Stander (Dave O’Callaghan ’28).

Referee: Romain Poite.

Rugby World’s players to watch in 2015

It’s time to peer deep into the Rugby World crystal ball and pick out a squad of players who could thrust themselves into the spotlight for 2015

Following much hyperbole and no little excitement, the World Cup year is finally upon us. Over the next 12 months, a galaxy of stars will be born as rugby asserts itself in the global spotlight. Here is a squad – all 25 or under – to keep your eye on.

15. Stuart Olding – Age 21, Ulster and Ireland 

A season on the sidelines and a consequent 17-month hiatus between caps will generate a vast amount of hunger. Still 21, Olding crowned his courageous comeback from a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament with a try-scoring replacement cameo for Ireland against Georgia. A balanced runner with skills and ambition, he will be in Joe Schmidt’s thoughts for the Six Nations and beyond.

14. Tim Nanai-Williams – 25, Chiefs

Two Super Rugby titles and 68 appearances for the Chiefs mean Nanai-Williams is far from a fresh face. Indeed, his fast-twitch invention and box-office offloading have been entertaining since his provincial debut back in 2010. However, with an All Black call not coming, the versatile 25 year-old is aiming to represent Samoa at the World Cup by making some sevens appearances. It is a tantalising prospect.

Seta Tamanivalu

13. Seta Tamanivalu – 22, Chiefs

If nothing else, this squad selection underlines the ludicrous pool of Polynesian talent across the globe. On the back of winning the ITM Cup Player of the Year gong for inspiring Taranaki to silverware, Fiji-born Tamanivalu will link up with Sonny Bill Williams in his rookie term at the Chiefs. Malakai Fekitoa rocketed into the limelight last year. Precocious Tamanivalu could be the coming man for New Zealand. Steve Hansen’s assessment? “He looks very, very good.” Praise indeed.

12. Noel Reid – 24, Leinster and Ireland

Quite understandably, Leinster centres – even extremely gifted ones – have needed to bide their time over the past few years. Brian O’Driscoll’s retirement has obviously necessitated a rejig and Reid, a classy all-round operator, is knocking on the door with Gordon D’Arcy turning 35 in February. A man-of-the-match performance opposite incumbent international Robbie Henshaw last month will not have dampened his Test prospects.

11. Seabelo Senatla – 21, Stormers

Watching Senatla blitz about for the Baby Boks during the 2013 Junior World Championship felt like watching a glitchy video game. For sheer speed, very few on the planet can match him and he tops the current World Sevens Series try-scoring charts with 20. Inclusion in Heyneke Meyer’s recent Springbok touring squad – though unused in Test matches – demonstrated his phenomenal 15-a-side credentials, based primarily on deadly finishing.

10. Ulupano ‘UJ’ Seuteni – 21, Toulon

Only turning 21 last month, Seuteni has a CV that already reads like a meandering novel. Drafted out of school by the Queensland Reds at 17, he went to the 2012 Junior World Championship with Australia but could not quite break into a Super Rugby match-day 23. Uprooting to Europe, the mercurial playmaker arrived on the Cote d’Azur and is representing Toulon’s Espoirs while benefitting from mentors such as Jonny Wilkinson and Matt Giteau. Also proficient at full-back, he should get game-time when James O’Connor heads back Down Under.

9. Tomas Cubelli – 25, Belgrano Athletic and Argentina

Even in light of Argentina’s recent strides – victories over Australia, Italy and France since October – their double-act at scrum-half is rarely recognised. Martin Landajo is one of these two men and began 2014 with the starting berth. However, Cubelli’s guile earned him the No. 9 spot for the final two Tests of the year. An overhead kick at Twickenham for the Barbarians defined his vision and impish cheek – two qualities that sparkle behind the Puma pack.

1. Nick Auterac – 22, Bath

England’s stable of loosehead props is immense. Joe Marler heads it up, with Matt Mullan deputising. Alex Corbisiero and Mako Vunipola – both Lions – are returning from injury. Then you have superb Saint Alex Waller. Auterac, in the process of usurping 57-cap Welshman Paul James at The Rec, is spearheading Bath’s title charge with energy, physicality and set-piece destruction. Graham Rowntree has another outstanding No. 1 to mould.

2. Elliot Dee – 20, Dragons

It takes a special sort of unflappability to receive a late call-up and excel. On Boxing Day, Dee was promoted to the Dragons starting side to face the Cardiff Blues when T Rhys Thomas tweaked his groin during the warm-up. Eighty minutes later as Lyn Jones’ Men of Gwent were celebrating a 23-17 win, their hooker had racked up 13 carries and 11 tackles. He held his own at the lineout too. Clearly, Dee’s self-confidence and swagger go way past a popular haka.

3. Taniela Tupou – 18, Queensland Reds

We all saw the YouTube clips of this 135-kilogram beast careering to 50-metre tries for Auckland’s Sacred Heart College, and ‘Tongan Thor’ – arguably the most apt nickname in rugby – produced headlines when he opted for the Reds over a Kiwi franchiseWhile he is unlikely to feature in the upcoming Super Rugby calendar, this will be a key season for technical development. Lodging with head coach Richard Graham is an excellent start.

4. Jonny Gray – 20, Glasgow Warriors and Scotland

Both locks are more established names, starting with the younger Gray. His stellar 2014 culminated in a simply brilliant display against the All Blacks. Big brother Richie barged into the New Zealand Herald World XV, but it is tempting to suggest a case of mistaken identity. Expect Jonny, an awesome athlete, to underline that during the Six Nations.

5. Tomas Lavanini – 21, Racing Metro and Argentina

Given the abundance of Argentinan ability, 2015 could easily mark the beginning of a golden decade for the Pumas. Another hardened international by now, Lavanini will be integral to that should he remain fit and firing. Rangy and robust with an essential streak of nastiness, he should thrive in the Top 14 for megabucks Racing Metro as well.

6. CJ Stander – 24, Munster

Non-World Cup storylines are a significant part of 2015. With that in mind, Stander’s saga is sure to remain in the public consciousness – certainly the Irish one. He qualifies to represent the Emerald Isle on the day before the World Cup final and, having brought terrifying power to the Munster back row, will surely come straight into the mix if he keeps churning out influential efforts on European and Pro12 stages.

CJ Stander

7. Hamish Watson – 23, Edinburgh

Fate dealt Watson a cruel crunch in October when he broke his jaw against Lyon just four days after being invited by Vern Cotter to train with Scotland’s autumn international squad. Back fit to start this year from the bench against Glasgow though, more of what caught Cotter’s eye – namely massive work-rate and breakdown guile – might see him slither into the wider World Cup party.

8. James Chisholm – 19, Harlequins

In summer England Under 20 embark on a bid for a third successive Junior World Championship title – something that would be a stunning feat. Chisholm, a brawny red head with a penchant for busting the gainline, was a mainstay of last June’s success and is a candidate to captain the next crop. Domestic opportunities may be scare with evergreen Nick Easter on the scene, but this No 8 is mighty promising.

Replacements

16. Jack Walker (Yorkshire Carnegie), 17. Eddy Ben Arous (Racing Metro and France), 18. Angus Ta’avao (Blues), 19. Maro Itoje (Saracens), 20. Joel Conlon (Exeter Chiefs), 21. Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors and Scotland), 22. Patricio Fernandez (Clermont and Argentina), 23. Tyler Morgan (Dragons)

Read more at http://www.rugbyworld.com/countries/england-countries/rugby-worlds-players-watch-2015/#7gTf4fiGCgfOKuuX.99

Hairy f*cking Italian Martin Castrogiovanni rants about c*nt Richard Cockerill

Former Leicester Tiger’s fan favourite Martin Castrogiovanni lashed out at the club following Toulon’s 25-21 loss on Sunday. On his first return to Welford Road since leaving for France, the Italy prop gave an incredibly frank account of why he left last year. His comments are now being investigated by the EPCR authorities.

Today Castrogiovanni apologised for what he said, but European Professional Club Rugby, the organisation that runs the Champions Cup, released a statement saying that they will investigate.

During the extensive outburst, the 33-year-old front rower said that he wanted to put the record straight, so opened up about why he left Leicester (for Toulon) after seven years, vehemently dismissing suggestions that it was financially motivated.

During the rant he took aim at his former boss Richard Cockerill, Leicester’s Director of Rugby.

“I never had the opportunity to defend myself when I left because people talked about this shit and money and Cockers talks about the money, but the real thing when I left this club is because you have [Dan] Cole and you have me,” said Castrogiovanni.

“Cole gets paid half the money from the RFU and I am foreign. What the f*ck you want? You have a good f*cking tighthead prop playing for England and a hairy f*cking Italian.

“The thing is that they made it look like I went for the money, but I paid £100,000 from my pocket to leave this club because I want to play rugby. That’s it,” he explained.

“I always love this club and I wanted to clarify and talk face to face, which is something Cockers never does. I think in the last few years people are getting sacked and this club was not like that before. They used to respect people, now they act like nothing is going on.

“That is not from the club, that is from the guys in charge.

“Everything you do in your life – good or bad – will come back to you and they sack people who have been at this club for 17 years. When I get to this club it was all about the shirt and the badge. It is easy not to talk about the money when you don’t really follow the club.

“I loved this club and I didn’t leave for the money,” Castro insisted.

“Fair enough they deserved to win today. They played really well and we didn’t play our standard. They should play their game of lives. I never want to speak with Cockers any more.

“I am the kind of guy that if I hate you, if you are not clear with me or if you have been a c*nt – how you say in English – I never want to speak to you any more. That’s it. That’s how I am. I am not fake.

“If I hate you, I say in your face and I will never speak to you again. Love me or hate me. I don’t hate anyone. Peace and love. I just don’t like c*nts.

Not afraid of showing that he has an excellent grasp of the English language, he continued with his choice vocabularly and spoke about the return fixture in round 4, at home in Toulon.

“I thought f*cking Leicester were a f*cking amateur team. What about that? If they lost another game at home he [Cockerill] was going to get the sack. Everyone wants to win games against us because we are the best and it’s normal.

“They played quite a good game, they were physical but they’ve just won a game. All they’ve done is win a f*cking game. Now they need to come to our home and we’ll see. We’ll see next week what’s going on.

“I just wanted to say that Cockers is talking too much. He’s just won a game and there is still a lot of f*cking games to play in this tournament. He was saying that people go for the money but he has a lot of f*cking squad players who get paid as well.

“I paid my own f*cking money to leave this club. I don’t need the money to play rugby. I love this game and I used to love this club – I still love this club, but when people are up to here in water, they talk this talk but don’t walk the walk.

“I left half of my heart here and I still love this place. It as a little bit strange to go into a different changing room but this is life as a professional rugby player. It felt like my first game for Italy against Argentina; there was a lot of emotion going around but soon you forget everything when you start playing.

“It was quite beautiful and I really enjoyed it. You never want to hate a player being in another shirt. A club is a club and life keeps going but when you get a lot of love from people like that they understand that you are a good person and you give the heart for this club.

“That is what made me happy because I think they understand that and I think they realise that. A player never wants to be bigger than this club.”

Cockerill had already addressed the media but returned in an attempt to defuse the tension, and responded by downplaying the attack, saying that the two will catch up at some stage.

“I’ve a lot of time for Castro – he’s a fantastic player and icon for this club and a great guy. I always said I would pick on merit and I did. Dan Cole was third choice behind Julian White and Castro and worked hard to become first choice,” Cockerill explained.

“Castro was released from his contract a year early and we agreed a transfer fee with Toulon. One day he’ll realise that’s just sport. This club made him the player he was. I don’t want him to feel bitter towards us. One day we’ll have a beer together and smile about it.”

Castro’s apology

Today Castrogiovanni issued an apology, saying that the language he shouldn’t have used such harsh language, but he stayed firm with what he had expressed.

“First of all I want to make amends for my profanity and apologise to everyone feeling offended by what I said. I’m sorry if my words have created misunderstandings. It also was not my intention to offend anyone, but only to point out my position after some statements.

“I hate lies and hypocrisy. I have always been a loyal person and I have been loyal to all the people I worked with. I felt to be attacked but moreover Toulon was attacked and my feelings were I had to protect my team from yet another provocation,” he said, possibly referring to Cockerill’s column earlier in the week, where he spoke of how Toulon had bought so many good players.

“I have always loved the Tigers. I grew up there and spent seven wonderful years, unique. Leicester supporters have made me feel at home, a beautiful piece of my heart is still there and when I went away it was not because of my will.

“I love rugby and the only thing I want to do is play, so I went to France, at Toulon, one of the best teams in the world,” he added.

UPDATE:

Toulon’s former Leicester prop Martin Castrogiovanni has received a suspended four-match ban after he admitted a misconduct complaint.

Castrogiovanni has also been ordered to pay €10,000 to charity following his post-match comments aimed at the Premiership club Leicester and their rugby director Richard Cockerill after Toulon’s 25-21 European  Champions Cup defeat against the Tigers earlier this month.

The Italy international appeared before an independent disciplinary committee in London on Thursday.

His suspension is suspended until 30 April 2016, and will be activated “in the event of any off-field misconduct complaint being successfully brought against him”, European Professional Club Rugby announced.

A misconduct complaint charge was lodged against 33-year-old Castrogiovanni, who has won 107 Test caps, following a bizarre post-match episode at Welford Road on 7 December.

He sought out English journalists in the Leicester press room and then launched an expletive-laden outburst at Cockerill and Tigers over his perception of the way he left the Aviva Premiership club in 2013.

His six-minute tirade included nine mentions of the f-word and two of the c-word.

In a statement, EPCR said: “The misconduct complaint against Castrogiovanni was that after the match he made a number of comments to the media in which he attacked, disparaged, criticised, damaged and/or brought into disrepute Leicester Tigers, the club’s director of rugby, Richard Cockerill, EPCR, the European Rugby Champions Cup and the sport of rugby union in contravention of the disciplinary rules of the European Rugby Champions Cup Participation Agreement 2014/15.

“After considering evidence and hearing submissions on behalf of Castrogiovanni, who pleaded guilty, and on behalf of the EPCR disciplinary officer, the independent disciplinary committee found that Castrogiovanni was guilty of misconduct and that the comments made were utterly indefensible.

“The committee chairman, Antony Davies, accepted that Castrogiovanni’s comments regarding Leicester Tigers being “amateur” were made in an ironic and questioning manner, and therefore did not constitute criticism.

“He also acknowledged the player’s genuine remorse.

“Castrogiovanni was ordered to pay €10,000 to a charity in the city of Leicester and was banned for four matches with the ban suspended until 30 April 2016.

“The ban will be activated in the event of any off-field misconduct complaint being successfully brought against him. He was also ordered to pay costs.”

Castrogiovanni, who did not play in last weekend’s return Champions Cup fixture between Toulon and Leicester, was accompanied at the hearing by his legal representative Julian Pike, Toulon team manager Tom Whitford and the player’s agent Matthew Ginvert.

Analysis: The elements of a playing style

Conor Murray and the Munster pack during Munster's defeat to Clermont
Conor Murray and the Munster pack during Munster’s defeat to Clermont

By Bernard Jackman

Gameplans and strategy have come up a lot in recent weeks in discussions of Ireland, Leinster and Munster.

But what do we really mean when we talk about a team’s style or strategy; why does it change; and what impact do coaches have from week to week?

I think most teams have a core style of play, dictated by a combination of two factors: the coach’s philosophy on how the game should be played, and the skills profile of the playing personnel.

In theory it could be all one way or the other way but in most cases, a style is a hybrid of the two.

That core style then feeds through into a series of smaller areas.

Every team will have a strategy for a host of situations starting with how they receive the ball and exit their ’22 all the way up to the “green zone” at the other end of the pitch. The plan will set out the outcome expected and the process involved in each sequence.

It is a similar story in defence: every team will have a core defensive principle that they can make small changes to, based on what they expect from the opposition.

The tweaks you can make are to things like how many players go to the far side of the ruck (do the opposition usually go ‘same way’?), whether to contest with zero, one, two or three players, spacing in the defensive line, numbers in the backfield and tackle height.

Every team also generally have a number of different shapes to attack from. That is created by how you ‘map’ your players. ‘Mapping’ means how you redistribute your players from phase to phase. The attacking plan should combine width to pull the opposition defence apart with movement to stress it in certain areas.

Playmakers are designated and prioritised

The gameplan will also designate the playmakers. A good attack can play off the scrumhalf, the outhalf and ideally another playmaker as well and before a match, the coaching staff can also designate which one has priority.

In fact, there are dozens of little things that can be calibrated differently each week from kick-offs to lineouts to offloading to defensive spacing.

All those elements add up to a gameplan for a given week and a tweak at the right time can yield big dividends.

For example, here in Grenoble we used a certain type of game plan for the first 11 matches and didn’t vary it too much: it is hard to radically change in one week without losing clarity in what you are about.

But having had a three-week break over November we were able to work on a different type of gameplan based around kicking more and territory. We were able to catch Toulouse by surprise and get an invaluable away win.

But it is key to remember that there is a point at which you risk diminishing the fundamental strengths of your team by changing too much for one match just to be unpredictable.

I would estimate that most teams play with 75% of the same strategy week on week with just the odd new strike play and maybe a new pattern used to try and mix things up.

The Canterbury Crusaders are a good example. They play the same way almost all the time but it is effective because they execute so well. The forwards hold their positions in the wider channels and they pass the ball a lot to shift it away from the ruck to those players.

Rob Penney tried to mimic that style with Munster but we have seen a definite change under Anthony Foley this season.

Change under Anthony Foley

When Munster beat Leinster in the Guinness Pro12 they had their forwards play around the ruck with just one pass before they took contact, recycled and went again. They were much more aggressive than Leinster and dominated the match using what is a more traditional style of rugby for them.

At the time I remember wondering if it would be good enough beat Saracens and Clermont, who are both physically bigger and more powerful teams than Munster. I wasn’t sure but they used the plan at home to Saracens and it worked well and resulted in a win.

But it came unstuck last weekend against a Clermont side that was well motivated and drilled and determined to smash Munster’s ball carriers around the fringes. Looking at how the styles matched up, you could see that because Munster rarely use their backs and attack narrow, Clermont could be narrow in defence. That helped them make more impact tackles and killed Munsters momentum.

CJ Stander was stopped in his tracks for the first time this year, and after Dave Kilcoyne went off Munster’s ball-carrying power was further weakened.

Gainline losses created pressure

That difficulty on the gain line spread outwards through the team. When Conor Murray and Ian Keatley tried to kick for territory they were doing so on the back foot and struggled for accuracy.

This style of rugby is very abrasive and will always make Munster hard to beat but against the very best teams they may need to find another two or three big ball carriers – maybe Robin Copeland could be one – and be more of a threat out wide to give their forwards a release valve.

The look of Leinster’s play has also been a big talking point. The perception is that the style of rugby is not pleasing to the eye.

They are not as exciting to watch as they were under Joe Schmidt but it is easy to forget that they have scored the most tries in the Guinness Pro12 this season.

Matt O’Connor’s Leicester teams were very consistent at scoring points and I think Leinster have that quality.

Personnel available must be considered

The injuries and retirements have to be factored in. I think if you take Sean O’Brien, Cian Healy, Jonny Sexton, Shane Horgan, Brian O’Driscoll and Isa Nacewa out of any team their ability to break the line and score beautiful tries would drop massively.

Getting more specific, the quality of Leinster’s passing and decision-making in the wider channels has let them down this season, but those things can be fixed.

Against Harlequins, Leinster kicked less than they had the week before against the Ospreys but they turned the ball over out on the touchlines too often and that was the key factor in the loss.

The doubters may need to be reassured that O’Connor is a very good coach with a good reputation in the game.

Leinster can qualify and then get stronger

What Leinster did under Joe Schmidt is testament to his ability and the players they had at the time.

But Matt has to set his team up to try and maximize the talent he has and if they win this weekend I think they will they will qualify from their group. I think they will do that.

The playing personnel available is massive and can be forgotten in discussions about style and strategy.

For Leinster it is about the absentees coming back and the team getting stronger through the competition. It is a long time to the quarter finals and by the time they come around they should have Ben Te’o and a few others back and available.

Leinster were unlucky that Te’o got injured in his first game. The limit on the number of foreign players in Ireland means you need to strike gold with them.

Zane Kirchner and Kane Douglas were only on the bench last weekend and getting those players into the starting team and in form will also be crucial to their ability to challenge for silverware.

Conor Murray: Clermont anticipated Munster gameplan

Clermont's Fritz Lee lines up Munster's Conor Murray
Clermont’s Fritz Lee lines up Munster’s Conor Murray

Scrumhalf Conor Murray has said Munster need to be smarter if they are to make amends for last weekend’s Champions Cup loss when they travel to Clermont on Sunday.

Munster failed to make much impact on the Clermont defence in last Saturday’s 16-9 defeat, and were out-muscled by the French side, who put in an aggressive performance, repelling Anthony Foley’s men time and again.

Reflecting on the game, Murray told RTÉ Sport that Clermont had appeared to anticipate Munster’s gameplan, but that it was important to take some positives from the game.

Murray said Munster had not been surprised by Clermont’s aggressive, physical approach, but said that “we probably didn’t play as smartly as we could have. They seemed to know where the ball was going and lined us up in certain areas.

“Having said that, we dug in there, we stayed in the game until the very end, and had an opportunity to maybe level the game, or at least score a try, in the corner in the dying moments.

“So, we have got to take positives from that game. We didn’t perform as we would have liked but we were still within one score of really good team. But this week is completely different: we need to attack this, rather than [just] go out there and hope to win.”

“They seemed to know where the ball was going and lined us up in certain areas” – Conor Murray

Murray said that it was a positive to have the opportunity to right the wrongs of last weekend almost immediately, given the home and away nature of rounds three and four of the pool stages.

“Usually when you lose to a team, or don’t perform against a team, a big team, you might not get to play them again until the second half of the season or a year or two’s time,” he said.

“This is a unique way of getting back on the horse straight away, putting a performance together against the team that managed to beat you last week. We talk about it being half-time at the moment, and that’s what it is for us.”

He said that he was disappointed that Munster had not performed in the game last weekend, “especially the way we let them into the game so early and gave them that buffer to relax upon.

“But we had to shake that off quite quickly with the task that is ahead, this weekend, down in Clermont. It has been done down there, other people have won recently.

“We’re aware that we need to perform really, really well, [and] fix a lot of the mistakes we made last week. We can’t afford to make them this week, because they’ll be a different animal at home again.

“We’re just really [focusing] on putting a performance together ourselves, and just playing as well we can, because as good as Clermont were at the weekend and are going to be this weekend, we’re kind of focusing on ourselves.

“We let ourselves down a little bit at the weekend, by not performing … at the standards we have been doing this year.”