The Wally Ratings :: #KINvMUN

It’s still too early to tell what Munster’s attack will look like once the business end of the season rolls around.

But we’re getting a better look with each passing game.

Firstly, let’s deal with the results because any kind of attacking invention that isn’t allied with winning rugby is and always has been fool’s gold. This bonus-point win on the road is a good day’s work whatever way you want to slice it up and Munster did incredibly well to recover from an early setback in the second half to pull away without much trouble. Munster sit on top of Conference B after two rounds and will make it their business to stay there.

Now for the fun stuff.

What we saw in Port Elizabeth was far from the finished article – a few passes and offloads went astray – but it did give us more of a look than we saw in Thomond Park last weekend. Munster weren’t perfect by any means, but from what I’ve seen so far in the last two games, there’s quite a bit to be encouraged by.

The first thing that stood out to me here was our alignment on phase play. We seem to be using a fluid 2-3-2-1 forward structure.

This is a variation on the 1-3-3-1 we used for much of the last two seasons and it plays into what we’ve seen from Munster over the last few weeks if we include what we saw at the London Irish game and the Dragons last week.

There are no real set roles, with perhaps the only concrete role being the fastest forward take up the wide “lone wolf” pod. Here’s an illustration of it out on the pitch.

Jack O’Donoghue is out of sight at the bottom of the above image.

Our “3-man” pod is dovetailed, to allow for a variety of tip on pass options for the ball carrier to access. He can pass to the left or right or swing the ball back to Hanrahan on the screen. The depth of the players behind the carrier – almost like an arrowhead – allow for ruck clearing if needs be and, almost more importantly, dynamic pop ball options. Here’s an excellent example of how it works;

Archer takes the ball in the middle of the pod, commits the defender and pops to Botha on his inside shoulder. O’Connor, who started on the outside of the pod, played a fantastic part in keeping this movement alive with Hanrahan and Mathewson buzzing around fringes to link the play. We were unlucky not to score in this instance.

The key is that every forward should be able to slot into the roles required as the play comes together, with the ability to play whatever’s on as a key part of the attacking sequence. Here’s an example where you can see the importance played by the middle “Two” in this pattern. Keep an eye on Botha and O’Donnell as they react to Hanrahan’s attack on the gainline.

Small details – the ball carrier is running onto this pass and gets the reward on the gainline.

They run hard attack lines to give Hanrahan the option of an offload if he can get a look at getting it away. The initial pod of three acts conventionally here – it’s a straight-up carry – but they’ve conditioned the defence to taper their line speed with the pop passes shown previously. The Three Man Pod generated lightning-quick ball for Mathewson to work with and that time bonus gave the scrumhalf and Hanrahan options to work with.

The Middle Two unit has to react to whatever picture they see and that above GIF is a good example. Hanrahan attacked the line, so the Middle Two surged on his position looking for an offload. Here’s Botha showing up on a pre-called move to attack the outside shoulder of the Three Man Pod.

He takes a hard line, at pace, and times it perfectly to O’Byrne’s pass. When Cronin slings the ball to the edge of the Three Man Pod to O’Byrne, the hooker can make a decision, knowing he has a big runner coming with pace on his outside shoulder.

The Wide Two Man Pod seems to be used for probing blindside attacks off the Three Man Pod. When Munster get slow ball off the Three Man Pod in this instance, Mathewson hits O’Donnell off a Botha screen for a good gainline and quick ball.

Off that ruck, we can attack with more width and tempo. The Three Man Pod, spotting the hinge in the defensive structure, can hit Hanrahan on the screen and then target O’Shea in the Middle Two Unit to carry up the middle of the pitch, with O’Byrne in support.

It didn’t work in this instance obviously – O’Shea couldn’t take the pass from Hanrahan – but you can see the rough structure that we were using to manipulate the Kings defence. There are no set roles for any of the forwards, with all but the wide Lone Wolf pod expected to be filled by whoever is in place at the time.

In the aftermath of a transition, when our primary structure wasn’t able to be put in place, we were comfortable stacking our supporting forwards with width and then trusting their handling ability when we go wide-wide off a huge linebreak.

Mathewson would score on the next phase

This structure puts big demands on our forward handling and confidence. By confidence, I mean being comfortable taking the ball in space and having the balls to back yourself to throw a 10m pass off your left or right.

It’s also helped by our forwards – and everyone else – looking to take the ball on the move. Look at Loughman here.

Last season, we were taking a lot of these balls static. I know because I’ve watched those games back as a reference. A little movement like this is more difficult to execute for the scrumhalf because he’s got to aim at horizontal and lateral space rather than a static target. It’s more difficult for the forward because he has to time his run, watch the ball, catch it on the move and then secure the ball as he accelerates into contact. There are more things to go wrong and they will go wrong in the early goings of the season and as the internationals return to the new style but if you want an attack based on pace, tempo and putting creative decisions into the hands of your creative players.

The role of the halfbacks has been visible in all of the above examples. Hanrahan lurks behind the screen or attacks the gainline with the created space, Mathewson runs deep support lines and links play beyond the break. I’ve mainly focused on the forwards’ roles here but when they are taking the ball wider and passing more – 36 passes collectively here – it will put your halfbacks in a position to have more space to work with, more pass options at every point and more opportunities to create for others.

Transition

Last season, Munster’s need to work better on kick transition events was fairly stark. We had one of the best defences in Europe, which forced a lot of kickbacks, but we didn’t do a good job of converting the opportunities those kickbacks presented.

Our first try came directly from our work on kick transition. We knew that the Kings would be vulnerable to kick transition attacks and we looked to attack them at every opportunity and this is a good example. We exchanged kicks with the Kings and then attacked when their primary defensive line separated from their backfield.

The key here is what was being built as the kick is being claimed.

Look at Munster overloading the “attack left” side of the field as Sweetnam claims this ball and look at how the Kings backfield stacks up to it. When we add in the resetting Kings defenders to the openside, we can see how Munster have generated positive wide numbers and angles.

When the ball goes wide, Munster have four or five options for Hanrahan to hit and he picks Goggin, who squares up the backfield defender before popping the ball to Haley for an easy finish.

This was a try generated through kick transition.

Munster’s second try was generated off the back of excellent kick transition counter-attacking, this time from deep in our own 22. Have a look – but pay attention to how none of the counter-attackers “over-run” their support.

It’d be easy for Daly to put the foot down on this the minute he sees green grass in front of him but he tapers his run to allow for the support he knows is coming to take a pass and link the play. There are five passes in this sequence before the next ruck inside the Kings 10m line and Munster would score two phases later. Another try generated on the back of a kick transition.

With 10 minutes to go, we wrapped up the bonus point off the back of another successfully executed kick transition counter-attack. Look at how we earned the position. Haley took a kick return from the Kings inside the Munster half, stepped back towards the touchline and found three Munster runners to aim for.

Botha would score two phases later. The depth that the counter-attackers kept on Haley’s return was crucial. At the point of release beyond the contact, Haley has two legitimate, relatively safe pass options to aim for.

When Cronin looked for support, he had a deep runner to hit. When O’Donoghue went looking, he had the same.

It’s very encouraging and we didn’t see a lot of this kind of work at the same time last year. How will this scale up to stronger opposition? I guess we’ll see next week against the Cheetahs and then later in the Autumn when the Champions Cup rolls around but once again, what we saw here against the Kings was very encouraging while also, importantly, getting the bonus-point win that we’d have targeted pre-game.

The Wally Ratings: Southern Kings (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
Liam O'Connor★★★★
Kevin O'Byrne★★★★
Stephen Archer★★★★
Darren O'Shea★★★
Fineen Wycherley★★★★
Jack O'Donoghue★★★★★
Tommy O'Donnell★★★
Arno Botha★★★★
Alby Mathewson★★★★
JJ Hanrahan★★★★
Shane Daly★★★★
Rory Scannell★★★
Dan Goggin★★★★
Darren Sweetnam★★★
Mike Haley★★★★★
Diarmuid BarronN/A
James Cronin★★★
Jeremy Loughman★★★★
Billy Holland★★★
Jed Holloway★★★
Neil Cronin★★★
Tyler Bleyendaal★★★
Chris CloeteN/A

Notable Players

I thought our starting front row were really good, bar one badly managed scrum in the second half. Liam O’Connor, Kevin O’Byrne and even Stephen Archer really impressed with their ball-handling ability. Boomer and O’Byrne weren’t that much of a surprise for me but I thought Archer’s handling was outstanding, given it wasn’t really something you’d associate with him in previous seasons.

Fineen Wycherley had another standout game for me, bar one poor tackle when we got caught on a reverse play off a lineout. He’s really upped his ball-carrying game and his overall presence around the field. Really solid stuff.

Shane Daly got Man of the Match on the day – for the second game running – and gave another showcase on why he’s been consistently name-checked by Van Graan over the past 12 months. He’s playing with the kind of confidence that often separates good young players from the guys who end up being elite. Exciting.

Dan Goggin didn’t have a huge number of involvements in this game but when he did get involved, it created opportunities. Two assists and some real impact on both sides of the ball.

Alby Mathewson and JJ Hanrahan had really impactful games here and looked really at home in Munster’s expanded system. Mathewson might only be in Munster for just over a year but he’s a guy who will leave a big footprint with his professionalism and instincts, all visible here. JJ was faultless of the tee and played with the kind of assured maturity that I’ve often looked for from him. Excellent.

Jed Holloway had a quiet enough debut when he came on for the injured Chris Cloete. He looked decent in defence and it’ll be worth seeing what he’s like as the season progresses.

For me, this was the best I’ve seen Mike Haley perform since he’s joined Munster. He had 27 involvements in possession and hardly put a foot wrong. He had a massive hand in the making of the bonus point try and constantly looked to convert our kick transition events into meaningful counter attacks. Really top drawer. ★★★★★

My Man of the Match was Jack O’Donoghue. For me, he looked like a guy who could easily be playing in Japan right now, given his effectiveness here. He looks to have shaken off a lot of the rust that follows a serious knee injury and he looked to have real pace and aggression on the ball when he got his hands on possession. His lineout and maul defence was elite. One poor penalty aside, I thought it was one of his most visible games in red and hinted at a player who, at 25 years old, is just coming into his athletic prime. Outstanding stuff. ★★★★★

There’s much to cover in this game and I’ll be doing that in TRK Premium all week long with GIF and Video Articles.