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Ken Borland


Munster wilt as heat & altitude engender a more unstructured game

Posted on April 12, 2022 by Ken

The Highveld heat and altitude engendered a more unstructured game and caused Munster to wilt, allowing the valiant Lions to snatch a 23-21 victory with a tremendous final-quarter comeback in their United Rugby Championship match at Ellis Park on Saturday.

Lions flourish in unstructured play

For the first hour of the match, Munster were the slicker, better organised side as they built up a 21-10 halftime lead. Their brilliant phase play allowed them to mount relentless attacks with their forwards carrying and offloading superbly.

In contrast, the Lions looked disorganised and messy behind their rucks, which meant several attacking opportunities inside the Munster 22 fizzled out. The home side did not protect their ball well enough and were counter-rucked on several occasions.

But in the final quarter, with Munster visibly tiring, the match became loose and unstructured, which suited the Lions. They were superb in lifting the intensity, applying pressure and converting their chances as Wandisile Simelane, who had moved to the wing, scored and Jordan Hendrikse kicked two penalties.

All-action terriers

What the Lions lack in experience or big-name stars, they made up for in tenacity and effort. Leading the way in that respect was blindside flank Vincent Tshituka, who was all over the ball whether carrying, defending or bringing pressure at the breakdown.

Hendrikse showed there is more to flyhalf play than just being a general with a strong kicking game. Fullback Quan Horn provided the big boot for the Lions, and a couple of lovely runs, but Hendrikse was a constant thorn in the Munster flesh with his abrasive style. Playing flat, he was all about testing the defence, while he put in several big tackles and was a constant menace at the breakdown. And he also, crucially, succeeded with all five of his kicks at goal.

Scrum power pays off

Our rugby is well-known for its reliance on powerful scrummaging and initially there was a tremendous tussle in that set-piece as Carlu Sadie, Sti Sithole and Jaco Visagie put Munster under pressure. They did not get any reward though as Munster were clever in absorbing and nullifying the pressure.

That all changed in the second half when the replacement front row of Ruan Dreyer, JP Smith and PJ Botha came on. They were superb in not only winning three crucial scrum penalties but contributing brilliantly in open play with strong carries and breakdown steals.

The Lions are a different animal at Ellis Park

Given the 11-place gap between the two teams on the URC log, Munster were deservedly clear favourites for the match. And in the first half the Lions showed few signs of being able to tame them.

But playing at Ellis Park in the early afternoon, heat and altitude are always going to be factors and the Lions used them perfectly. They were able to up the tempo in the final quarter and simply scrummed and ran Munster off their feet, while competing ferociously at the contact points.

Scorers

Lions: Tries – Edwill van der Merwe, Wandisile Simelane. Conversions – Jordan Hendrikse (2). Penalties – Hendrikse (3).

Munster: Tries – John Ryan, Josh Wycherley, Fineen Wycherley. Conversions – Jack Crowley (3).

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