It would only take the replacement of a U’ with an O’ to create the Monster’ that Munster have become in terms of European rugby, Des Berry says previewing today’s Heineken Cup final.
It would only take the replacement of a U’ with an O’ to create the Monster’ that Munster have become in terms of European rugby. Their legend and support has grown in equal proportion and they are now the very image and reality of everything that is right with the Heineken Cup.
Perhaps, their stand alone’ status is fed by their annual heartbreak in two semi-finals and two finals. When will they make the glorious breakthrough?
On Friday night, it came to light that Munster openside David Wallace had been forced out of Sunday’s semi-final with English champions with a bout of chicken pox.
Former Ireland Under 21 Stephen Keogh has been asked to fill the void left by the most potent forward ball carrier in Irish rugby. Eddie Halvey or Alan Quinlan will move up to the bench.
Although Keogh is lacking big-time experience, he has been making sure improvement in the Celtic League and he is a naturally aggressive animal that will not shirk the challenge.
Alan Gaffney has already gone on record to say that Wasps are the form side in England and, probably, in Europe.
So what can Munster do to take the sting out of Wasps?
The transfer of All Black legend Christian Cullen has not been the instant success that the uninformed expected.
Apparently, he is human. He has had to work his way back to full fitness after a serious shoulder injury that left him without a game for four months.
While, it remains to be seen whether he does retain all his mesmeric intuition for pulling defences out of joint with his unparalleled lines of running, he may not have to cause devastation with the ball.
For Munster’s two early tries in the 37-32 quarter-final win over Stade Francais, he was the crucial difference between the old and the new Munster.
In the first instance, he took Mike Mullins’ pass, sucked in Ignacio Corleto and delayed the release to Shaun Payne with a beautiful simplicity.
In the second, Cullen was the decoy for Mullins to go wide for John Kelly to make room to kick ahead for Rob Henderson’s touchdown. He did more without the ball than was likely with it.
Wasps blitzing out-to-in defence is a high stakes gamble that has, by and large, worked for them this season. Munster showed that they could get outside the Stade defence. They will have to be as precise against the English champions.
A bright, clear day would provide the perfect setting for Ronan O’Gara to execute his long, flat passes to Mullins. The message is simple and effective. Let the ball do the work.
SLOW BACK ROW.
It will also serve to move around the massive Wasps back row. Joe Worsley, Paul Volley and Lawrence Dallaglio will provide a bank of muscle in front Munster’s fringe attack. They have a combined weight over 50 stones.
When Munster do go narrow, David Wallace would have been asked to get them over the gain line. A lot would have fallen on his broad shoulders and powerful legs. ,p>
Now, that responsibility will be shared among captain Jim Williams, Keogh and, most critically, Anthony Foley. There will have to be a percentage of hard graft done in close to tie in the Wasps fringe defence and the ball will have to be released when the time is right.
The biggest hooker in first class world rugby – he weighs in at a tasty 20 stones – has been prone to wayward throwing to the lineout.
His targets will be the giant Simon Shaw, Richard Birkett and Dallaglio and Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan, many experts idea of the best lineout combination in Europe, Jim Williams and Anthony Foley will be tossed up into the airwaves to disturb and disrupt.
Don’t forget, the men on the ground, most notably John Hayes and Marcus Horan, will have to do their jobs in the lifting department.
THOMOND PARK IN DISGUISE.
Manu Samoa’s Leota will be tested by Munster’s defensive lineout and the spotlight cast by 45,000 screaming supporters.
Wasps are a team of deep experience. They will not bow down before the five-times Heineken Cup semi-finalists. But, Leota will be nicely isolated for the lineouts along the touchlines. His technique will come under the glare of thousands.
A packed Lansdowne Road is another planet compared to the 10,000 capacity of The Causeway Stadium that Wasps experienced against Gloucester in their quarter-final and the 12,000 Frenchmen in Perpignan’s Stade Aime Giral.
THE NUMBER TENS.
Ronan O’Gara is used to, and comfortable inside, the cauldron of Lansdowne Road. He has played out much of his Ireland career in the old stadium.
He should have no fears or anxieties about the occasion and he will have to kick everything in sight as Wasps have put together the most dynamic and proactive defence in the Zurich Premiership.
Wasps pride themselves on keeping their line intact to the extent that they will not think twice about killing the ball inside their own 22-metre line.
Referee Nigel Williams will have to be strong and issue yellow cards, if they are merited. There will, probably, not be many tries and O’Gara’s accuracy could sway the game.
On the other hand, Alex King has never quite achieved the consistency and standards he hinted at as a young England international. The advent of Jonny Wilkinson and reliability of Paul Grayson have blocked his route to the very top.
King’s goal-kicking can be suspect at times and he is better known as a distributor and attacker. If he does falter, full back Marc van Gisbergen will provide another option.
Munster: C Cullen; J Kelly, M Mullins, R Henderson, S Payne; R O’Gara, P Stringer; M Horan, F Sheahan, J Hayes, D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell, J Williams (capt), S Keogh, A Foley.
Replacements: J Flannery, G McIlwham, D Pusey, E Halvey/A Quinlan, E Reddan, J Holland, A Horgan.
London Wasps: M Van Gisbergen; J Lewsey, F Waters, S Abbott, T Voyce; A King, R Howley; C Dowd, T Leota, W Green, S Shaw, R Birkett, J Worsley, P Volley, L Dallaglio (capt).
Replacements:T Payne, B Gotting, M Purdy, M Lock, P Richards, M Denney, A Erinle.
Referee: Nigel Williams (Wales).