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Let Mayhem Reign

Let Mayhem Reign

Our Supporters Club correspondent Adrian O’Farrell is back with a look at where the provinces stand this week and in particular what Munster need to do to combat Leinster.

Four rounds into the newly-minted GUINNESS PRO12 and all is not as expected. And although that may involve some adjustment for various bands of supporters, for the sake of the competition that’s a very good thing.

The emergence of Glasgow Warriors last season as serious title challengers was an overdue contribution from the far north. They head the table currently alongside the Ospreys, who were supposed to be decimated by the loss of so many star players last season.

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That’s the thing, though, about Welsh rugby – they always seem to have a supply of young tyros coming through to take the place of the more established stars.

The story of the season so far, from an Irish perspective, is Connacht. Sitting proudly in fourth place alongside Leinster (having defeated the Blues already).

Winning their first two matches, at home to the Dragons (16-11) and away to Edinburgh (14-13) set them up for a real tilt against Leinster, a team they have enjoyed considerable success against over the last several seasons.

And enjoy it once again they did, with Kieran Marmion’s outstanding individual effort sealing the deal.
Although they came a little unstuck away to Glasgow last weekend, they have much to look forward to, as they have produced this form in the absence of the two star names from New Zealand that are yet to play for them.

Mils Muliaina was sold the vision by Pat Lam of nurturing some outstanding back-line talent into a unit that could qualify for the European Rugby Champions Cup. And with Waikato Chiefs’ Bundee Aki also on his way in November, the trick is to be in good shape by the time they arrive, despite the loss of Jake Heenan for pretty much the season.

Meanwhile, Ulster are paying the price for sending an understrength team to Zebre and having a man sent off into the bargain. That said, nobody could argue but that Declan Fitzpatrick had to go after punching an opponent in the face in front of the assistant referee after just ten minutes.

This one will rankle, as Ulster should really be sitting just a point off top position. With Fitzpatrick off, the scrum got into fearsome trouble and Ulster were unable to retrieve the situation once Dario Chistolini scored a converted try five minutes into the second half.

While Ulster may not have been at their strongest, there was still enough talent and experience on the pitch for them not to have been able to deal with the situation.

Other than that, Ulster have been solid this season. The loss of Johann Muller and Dan Tuohy (to injury) has been offset by the arrival of Franco van der Merwe, who has impressed. Louis Ludik is another South African recruit who is also interesting, the experienced full-back having played over 70 Super Rugby matches for the Sharks and the Lions.

Could this herald the playing of Jared Payne in the centre at the behest of a certain international coach?

Of course, for many the season really kicks off this weekend with the clash of the traditional heavyweights of Leinster and Munster at the Aviva Stadium. Of the two, Leinster arrive in better condition, even if they are only a point ahead of their southern rivals.

Having their colours lowered by Edinburgh in his first competitive outing as head coach would have been the stuff of Anthony Foley’s nightmares, especially when the same Edinburgh side had 60 points put on them by the Ospreys.

Wins over the two Italian sides would have been considered par for the course before Munster’s second home loss versus those same Ospreys.

The failure to make any inroads during the ten minutes when the Ospreys were down to 14 men testifies to how hard Munster are finding it to create these days. Although their try was well-worked and scored by Gerhard van der Heever on the left wing, Munster badly need Simon Zebo back in tow to add some attacking verve.

The one thing in Foley’s favour right now is that this next match is against Leinster at the Aviva. Because this means that he can count on full-blooded commitment to the cause, an abandoning of their bodies.

And, perish the thought, if they lose it will be a loss that is understandable, given Leinster’s traditional strength at the venue. Not that he will look at it that way, but this fixture will bring out the best in his side while also giving him a bit of wriggle room.

Will the best in his side be good enough? Right now, probably not. Leinster may not be the freewheeling outfit of a couple of years ago, but they are the defending PRO12 champions and are coming off the back of a decent victory over Cardiff, have massive competition for places and are in a better place than Munster right now.

Foley’s biggest challenge is to restore the sense that it doesn’t really matter if the opposition have much better players than us. That was often the case in the past (though not always, as they had some bloody good players themselves).

But the collective will and belief rendered that talent gap not useless, but certainly a lot less useful, and effectively levelled the playing field.

The brains trust could do worse than to take out the video of Munster’s second team against the All Blacks from 2008 ahead of this match.

The pack needs to regain its ‘gnarliness’ and Ian Keatley could do worse than to just put high ball ahead of them for a spell and let mayhem reign. ‘Balls out’ is the only way for them right now, and head coach Foley needs not to succumb to the idea that he has to prove himself a real technician.