The Missing Ingredient: Munster Breakdown Analysis
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Written by Ronan Calvert of MunsterHaka.com
THE MUNSTER JUGGERNAUT continued on Saturday night with a precious away win in Scotstoun. The men in red put their bodies on the line, fought for every inch and on the overall, produced an emotional performance for the ages. However, from a technical point of view, it was an off-day for the visitors and such a performance will not be sufficient going forward.
Rassie Eramsus and Jaques Nienaber have come into the Munster set-up this season and one of the features of their game plan has been to only commit a necessary amount of numbers to both attacking and defensive rucks.
The ‘all out’ defensive pattern is a perfect example of this idea.
Of course this philosophy allows for little risk in defence as it crucially leaves the opponents without overlaps. The consequence of that however, is a reduction in turnovers or slowed opposition ball on the deck, and considering Munster have one of the world’s best poachers in Peter O’Mahony, in doing so, the coaches are sacrificing a major asset.
Hearing the blow of the whistle for holding on while under your own posts is one of the greatest emotional releases in the sport but the next best thing has instead been inputted into Munster’s play. Defensive coach Jacques Nienaber has decided to source those psychological boosts akin to O’Mahony’s penalty winnings with the ‘one high, one low’ approach.
As seen above against Leicester Tigers, Tyler Bleyendaal puts in a low shot on the opposing runner and Rory Scannell wraps high. The thought process behind the second man’s involvement is to allow the chance to either rip the ball, drive back the opponent or to form a choke tackle situation, depending on the circumstances. Erasmus trusts his players to use their instincts and Scannell repays him. The inside centre reacts to the relatively high body positioning of the Tiger and wraps him around the chest area while keeping his own posture upright. Choke tackle activated
A choke to CJ Stander is like an isolated carrier to Peter O’Mahony and the South African immediately gets stuck in. As matters unfold, option two arises and instinct comes to the fore once more as Stander tears the ball cleanly away once it becomes overly exposed to the Munster side
So in review, the philosophy of low commitment has worked a treat for Munster in the Champions Cup pools stages as they boast of conceding the fewest tries in the competition (3), with a game to go. How this thinking has translated into attack however, is the standout issue in Munster’s play. Munster have erased turnovers on the deck from their DNA and have sold them to the opposition. This is the major work-on required between now and the quarter finals.
Munster’s instinctive play features more individual runners and while Rassie would ideally want one effective clear and an extra seal, the carrier’s isolation can lead to panic. More often than not, the pile-in either comes too late or leaves Conor Murray devoid of options outside – which ultimately defeats the purpose of the gameplan.
Above we see Jack O’Donoghue go alone and Conor Murray has no option but to chip in and give Munster a potential lifeline at that particular ruck. This occurs to due to the forwards, namely David Kilcoyne in this instance, being too late to the breakdown and as a result, the contact are becomes an almighty mess.
Low commitment promises plentiful options beyond the ruck but making a dart through half gaps, regardless of support, also seems to be a feature of Munster’s game. Do they go hand in hand though? You only have to look to the weekend for that answer.
Indeed, the Glasgow game was probably the best instance of Munster’s support being slow to the breakdown hence why it has now become such a prominent talking point. Some have suggested that the team missed Tommy O’Donnell at openside but there is no denying that all rather similar with the Tipperary man in the side. Munster of course played Leicester away and lost largely due to poor ball retention.
With Thomond Park on their back, Munster’s get their job down that second or so quicker, but away days thus far have left cause for concern.
The one thing in common with all these instances is that they happened in the middle third of the field. The stage of an attack where teams stretch the defence. Under Rob Penney that may have been by going touchline to touchline, under Anthony Foley that may have been to pick and go down the blindside but with Rassie Erasmus in situ, the style is to hit outside the the pillar defenders with strong running forwards. When the clean is spot on, it is possibly the best method of all. However, it’s also the riskiest of all and so Munster’s afternoons in UL need to be accommodated to nailing this stage of the attack.
There are no issues in the ‘red zone’ where Munster play that bit tighter and as illustrated above, are not afraid to bind and commit immediately. However, game’s are won and lost in that middle third and Munster want to be a winning team.
Focus on this, nail this and Munster can be kings of Europe once more.