I had the chance for a quick catch up with the Munster Scrum coach Paul McCarthy at the Munster Scrum Clinic he gave at the Waterford Institute of Technology just before Christmas. You can listen to the short interview by clicking the link at the bottom of this page.
Munster’s scrum has come in for justified praise this season as it has been turned into one of the real strengths of this team. The arrival of BJ Botha has obviously played a big part in this but credit has to go to Scrum Coach Paul McCarthy too. Along with the forwards coach Axel Foley, McCarthy has turned what was a trouble area for Munster last season into a real threat this year. Wian du Preez has been brilliant at loosehead and the scrum as a unit is working well.
John Hayes and Marcus Horan have been lending experience in their squad roles and promising youngsters like Stephen Archer, Sean Henry and Dave Kilcoyne have gotten exposure to the senior team this year too. In Jerry Flannery’s continued absence, Damien Varley has assumed the first-choice hooker role but Denis Fogarty has kept pressure on Varley with his form in the PRO12. This competition for places has obvious benefits to the Munster squad.
Munster’s forward packs have always prided themselves on a high work-rate and this season is no different. However, one of the more noticeable aspects this season has been the amount of work their props are getting through. Often, props are thought to be solely concerned with getting the scrum and lineout right and maybe adding the odd tackle or carry from time to time. But Botha and du Preez have been extremely busy around the pitch this season.
Both props have been noticeable in defence with their consistently high tackle counts. As well as this, the South African pair have been offering themselves up as effective ball carriers. Du Preez in particular has improved greatly in this area. In the second-row, the magnificent form of Paul O’Connell has been complemented by the battle between Donncha O’Callaghan and Donnacha Ryan to partner him. This competition is bringing the best out of both players and the likes of Ian Nagle and Dave Foley will have to wait for their chance to impress.
In the back-row too there has been competition for places, even without David Wallace. Peter O’Mahony’s breakthrough has been well-documented and has added to the options at the back of the scrum. Niall Ronan is in the best form of his career and James Coughlan is another enjoying a flourish of late. Denis Leamy had been impressive off the bench before finally starting in O’Mahony’s absence in the second game against the Scarlets. Younger squad members like Tommy O’Donnell and Paddy Butler have also excelled when given the chance.
Munster’s 4 wins in the Heineken Cup have been built on dominant performances from their pack. The back-line hasn’t really sparkled, but then when has it ever really done so for Munster? With so many of the forwards mentioned above in good form, it makes sense for Munster to play to their strengths in the scrum, maul and strong carries closer in. With so many defences now blitzing up hard out wide, the combination of Ronan O’Gara’s intelligent tactical kicking and the brawn of this Munster pack is winning games for Munster.
Here’s the interview with Munster Scrum Coach Paul McCarthy:
Photos courtesy: Ivan O’Riordan