In the 51st minute, Olly Thorley ran into the corner and dotted the ball down to reduce Munster’s lead to 12 points.

Six minutes earlier, Munster lost their captain.

Normally, in an away game in the Heineken Cup against a side ranked fourth in the Gallagher Premiership, those two incidents would be the sign that things were about to get sticky for the rest of the game. But not this time.

At 46:13, Gloucester threw the ball into the lineout and went to the maul, which Munster splintered but couldn’t quite sack for a turnover. Seven minutes later, Gloucester finally managed to score in the corner after 35 phases of possession inside the Munster 5m line.

With every ruck, every tackle (40+), every inch that Munster scrapped for, Gloucester seemed to lose belief.

That Gloucester eventually scored in the corner – without a conversion – seemed immaterial, phyrric almost. Gloucester moved the scoreboard but Munster took something bigger, almost. The knowledge that Gloucester needed 35 phases to break them down from 5m out.

That’s the kind of moment in a game that tells you how the rest of it will go if you keep up the pressure. Gloucester were getting hammered on the gainline and, if Poite had seen Beirne’s initial entry on Phase 11, they’d have lost possession a third of the way through.

No men on their feet when Beirne enters, so no ruck formed.

Munster conceded, yes. But by forcing Gloucester to make 35 carries of the ball to make 6m, they let them know that this was going to be a long night at the office once Munster got the ball back. That happened a few minutes later when Conor Murray sniped his opposite number off a ruck and won a scrum turnover. Gloucester kept infringing, Munster won a free-kick and then this happened.

Three phases off the set piece, two massive ball carries up the middle of the field, one try in the corner for The Man. Compare and contrast to the try scored by Gloucester previously.

Gloucester were inefficient with their possession and couldn’t get over the gainline with the speed or depth that they needed. Munster did and with a bit to spare. That’s where the winning and losing of this game was, for me.

Ball Carrying

This was as good a performance on the ball as I’ve seen from Munster in two years. The last time I watched Munster perform to this level away from home was that win against Racing 92 but this one, when you consider the attacking evolution we’ve undertaken since then, was more impressive in a lot of ways.

Look at this in the build-up to the first try;

Munster worked an isolation for Stander on Atkinson with Murray feeding the ball while standing at first receiver off the lineout. Morgan was standing inside Danny Cipriani to insure him against contact from Scannell or Stander but that created the one on one that Munster actually wanted.

Watch the way that Stander starts tight to Scannell but then splays his run to target Atkinson;

This is a clever attacking scheme designed to attack Cipriani’s need for insurance in the 10 channel.

Morgan and Cipriani have to sit down on the line and Atkinson takes defensive contact while standing stationary and upright against CJ Stander running onto the ball. That’s how you get yourself sat down.

From that big gain line win, Munster compounded the problem for Gloucester by hitting Chris Farrell on the next phase.

That’s the one-two punch that Munster have been looking to land all season long. When you get two gain line wins like that deep in the opposition 22, you’re putting yourself in the prime position to score. Murray carried into a gap around the B defender straight after for another gain, so did Stander (again), so did O’Mahony.

When Munster reset after that ruck, they landed two killer blows in quick succession.

Stander, powered by Kleyn and Kilcoyne, drove through Gloucester’s heavy defence and, on the recycle, Chris Farrell took out three Gloucester defenders with his wide bore carry, with Scannell, Beirne and O’Donnell acting as a decoy position. They were always going to be ruck support to Farrell, rather than a ball-carrying option. Farrell’s power trapped a lot of Gloucester defenders on the wrong side of the ruck, and Murray would go straight to Carbery on the next phase for the finish.

He had the freedom of Kingsholm and he would make no mistake from there.

Even then, watch Kleyn’s line under the posts taking out multiple Gloucester defenders and making Carbery’s job even easier.

They’re all facing in – nobody is watching Carbery. Three Munster players could have scored this one. This was a try born from quality ball carrying spread over a wide enough range that Gloucester were forced to narrow to the position we wanted and create the space we needed.

When you look at Scannell’s try deep into the red at the end of the first half, you have another example of ball carrying and, importantly, structure.

Munster had a centre-field scrum in the 39th minute and attacked off that platform. On the 12th phase of attack, Munster pulled this play out of the hat.

Carbery fed Earls in the second layer who hit Farrell with a miss pass across Haley with O’Mahony running a decoy/ruck support line. The gain line that Farrell makes in this position is crucial because it means that Munster can “move the chains” on the next phase and, crucially, still have the likes of Stander, Scannell, Kilcoyne, Kleyn and Beirne to hit on the next phase. This kind of wide gain line win makes attacking back across the field easier and gives you a chance to use your full hand of heavy forward carriers on the next phase.

Skip forward a few phases and Munster were slowly eating Gloucester up on phase play. We’d started just inside the 10m line but were now deep inside the 22. Gloucester were making tackles but they weren’t slowing Munster’s possession. The speed of Munster’s ruck ball was starting to hurt them. Look at the speed on these two crucial rucks in centre-field position.

Lightning fast. It’s very hard to defend that kind of position when you’re giving up that kind of ruck speed. It’s a different scenario – not by much – but it took Munster two minutes and forty seconds to rack up 25 phases from around 35m out. It took Gloucester seven minutes to make 6m out of 35 phases.

That quick ruck ball gave up an opportunity, and the backline took care of it with a lovely structure.

When the ball came to Carbery, he had four options. He could hit O’Mahony short to his left, Conway on the pull back to the right, hit the line himself or pass the ball back into the second layer.

He goes to the second layer, Scannell attacks the broken field made by O’Mahony’s decoy/block and Munster’s #12 can power home for a killer score. It was a try built on effective attacking ruck range over multiple phases.

In truth, this was the winning of the game. Seventeen points is a lead that not many teams claw back in the Heineken Cup, and it would prove so again.

Throw in the thorough demolition Munster managed on the Gloucester lineout, the scheme choice  and the strong scrummaging performance,

The second half was topped off with a bit of Carbery and Conway magic but this game was won in the collisions – how we bossed them and where we bossed them.

As a group performance, this was as good as Munster have played all year and for 80 minutes. The coaching staff laid out a plan in defence, attack and specifics for the lineout and it worked out on the field thanks to some outstanding individual and collective unit performances. Munster were physical, aggressive and technically excellent in almost everything they did and in the end, Gloucester looked a little outclassed. As statements go, it was a big one. The job isn’t finished, of course. Exeter come to the House of Pain next weekend but if we play like this, we’ll do the job we need to. But that’s always the hardest part, isn’t it? Backing it up? If we can show that this wasn’t a one off, we’ll rattle a few cages in this tournament yet.

The Wally Ratings: Gloucester (A)

The Wally Ratings explainer page is here.  

As per usual, players are rated based on their time on the pitch, if they were playing notably out of position, and on the overall curve of the team performance. DNP means the player did not feature and N/A means they weren’t on the pitch long enough to warrant a fair rating given the way the game went. 

NamesRating
Dave Kilcoyne★★★★
Niall Scannell★★★★
Stephen Archer★★★★
Jean Kleyn★★★★
Tadhg Beirne★★★★★
Peter O'Mahony★★★★
Tommy O'Donnell★★★★
CJ Stander★★★★★
Conor Murray★★★★★
Joey Carbery★★★★★
Keith Earls★★★★
Rory Scannell★★★★
Chris Farrell★★★★
Andrew Conway★★★★★
Mike Haley★★★★
Rhys MarshallN/A
Jeremy Loughman★★★★
John Ryan★★★★
Billy Holland★★★★
Arno Botha★★★★
Alby MathewsonN/A
Tyler BleyendaalN/A
Dan GogginN/A

Notable Players

This was an outstanding collective performance. I thought both Scannells, Tommy O’Donnell, Peter O’Mahony, Chris Farrell, Jean Kleyn, Keith Earls and Mike Haley were all really, really good but I have to narrow down the focus or we’ll be here all day. Here are the Five Star Men.

We’re just about used to Tadhg Beirne’s regular collection of five stars at this stage. He’s just that good. With a fair wind, he’ll have a galaxy worth by season’s end and I wouldn’t bet against him. He was superb here again. He passed the ball well, he carried with venom, did all the basics you’d expect and called a superb lineout that kept Gloucester’s counter-jumpers out of the game. Then there was the usual breakdown yoinkery.

He’s a constant menace at the breakdown in a way that’s game-changing to the way we’re defending this year. Playing like this he’d start for any other team in Europe bar none. A superstar ★★★★★

Conor Murray is the best scrumhalf in the world. You might disagree with me on that but you’re wrong. You’ll come around eventually. He didn’t even have to go The Full Murray in this game to get five stars. He didn’t need to. His passing was superb. His sniping from the base was superb. His decisive work at the ruck earned the position that lead to the third try, and it was superb. His passing range was, you guessed it, superb. His box kicking was so good – and so cruel – it felt like the Gloucester back three owed him money, such was the relentless nature of his targeting.

They looked like a group of guys who were dealing with balls dropping from an angle and at a depth they thought they’d prepared for during the week. You know it’s coming but you still can’t stop it – that’s why he’s the best. ★★★★★

Andrew Conway played with the kind of effectiveness that marks out really good test wingers from guys who just aren’t at that level yet. He was denied a try in the second half when a Farrell offload drifted forward, but Conway’s kick through and chase made it into something that had to be checked.

He wouldn’t be stopped later in the half when he surged onto a beautiful kick through from Carbery for the bonus point score. His kick-chase is the kind of aggressive, targeted harassment that normally requires police attention and when you give him a chance to strike, he rarely misses the shot. Defensively, he was spot on. Positionally, he was faultless. When he’s chasing after a bouncing ball he just seems to be able to will it into popping up for him. He’s just very, very good in whatever position you play him in the back three and this was as sharp as he’s looked all season. Bombing on superbly ★★★★★

CJ Stander is an animal. You and I though, we know this already. BT Sports built up the contest between Ben Morgan and CJ Stander in the pre-match with the tagline that “whoever wins their duel would help their team win the game.” That billing hurt Ben Morgan a small bit, I think. He’s a great player for Gloucester. A good international too. But CJ Stander’s on a different level.

That’s a 6’6″, 16.5 stone man he’s running over there.

Stander picked up the coveted double-double – over 10 tackles and carries in the same game. He had a bit to spare too. He made 17 carries for 30m and made 21 tackles without missing one. That’s elite stuff. CJ Stander is very quickly becoming the complete #8 and games like this are just another folder in the evidence file. ★★★★★

What else is there to say about Joey Carbery? Two tries, two assists, five conversions and two penalties. His 26 points happened to be the margin of victory and that’s a fair summation of his contribution to this game.

Imagine, last week I had fellas (and they’re always fellas) solemnly arriving into my mentions to declare that Carbery’s try against Connacht was proof positive that the big JC wasn’t a flyhalf after all, but a fullback. Austin Healy, guff purveyor extraordinaire and the audiovisual equivalent of stubbing your toe off the coffee table and then standing on a plug, hinted at the same thing pre-game. Not many were suggesting it afterwards.

This came was a showcase of what Joey Carbery can do at #10. His movement ruck to ruck was superb. His ability to beat guys one on one was a constant thorn in Gloucester’s defensive system. His own defensive work was tenacious and effective. He was perfect off the tee. He just exuded the type of confidence you get from knowing that you’re the one driving the bus at flyhalf and when Carbery made the decision to head down south, he did it because of the promise that there would be games like this.

His work in setting up Conway’s try was classic Carbery.

After surging around on the short side, Carbery fixed the cover defender with his footwork, drilled a left-footed grubber through the gap that was at the perfect pace and perfect angle to set Conway away.

Then a few seconds after converting this try, he landed his second off an intercept.

Change the scoreboard at halfway lads – no one is catching him from there. Joey Carbery hinted at his vast potential as a world-class flyhalf in this game. His pace, his movement around the ruck and his improved decision making and accuracy were the basis that this remarkable performance was built on. Munster have built their attacking intentions around the skillset that Carbery brings and, on nights like this, we can see how dangerous a prospect that is. Class. ★★★★★

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