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Match Preview - Munster v London Wasps
4 April 2004, 11:21 am
With the moment of truth rapidly approaching, the Munster and Wasps sides due to be announced today, Des Berry looks at the factors that will determine the outcome of Sunday's game.
Courtesy of Des Berry

With the moment of truth rapidly approaching, the Munster and Wasps sides due to be announced today, Des Berry looks at the factors that will determine the outcome of Sunday's game.

The measure of London Wasps collective success over the last eighteen months can, partly, be gauged from the individual excellence of the players under the guidance of former Ireland coach Warren Gatland and their willingness to be moulded into a convincing unit.

That was the basis for winning the Zurich Premiership Grand Final and the Parker Pen Challenge Cup last season. What a season it was. Doubtless, it would be a tough act to follow.

Gatland and his players have made light work of the expectations brought on by their achievements. They are rapidly hunting down Bath in the Premiership and are the slight favourites to lift the Heineken Cup.

Their unprecedented success is reflected in the nominations for the Professional Rugby Players Association (PRA) Players Player of the Year Award for the Zurich Premiership today (Wednesday).

Wasps giant second row Simon Shaw is the only English-born player in the set of five and he is joined by his New Zealand full back teammate Mark van Gisbergen.

Principally, both men have profited from the work ethic of their colleagues. They have been to the forefront of an unbeaten domestic run that stretches right back to November 8th. It is a reward for all the squad.

Gatland s Wasps will not want for confidence. His captain Lawrence Dallaglio has already spoken about how it will be a great challenge for us .

How can Wasps overcome a side that will be spurred on by 45,000 supporters and the burning desire to make amends for two lost semi-finals and two lost finals?

1. THE THOMOND PARK FACTOR

Thomond Park is as much about the confidence is instils into the Munster players as the fear it breeds in the opposition.

Gatland has been quick to insist that his players will welcome the challenge in Dublin: I would love to see this side go to Lansdowne Road and perform to it s full potential. To go to Dublin with a fully fit Wasps side to take on a Munster team backed by tens of thousands of their fans will make it a great occasion, he said.

There certainly won t be the same fear factor going to Lansdowne Road as there might have been going to Thomond Park because a lot of the Wasps players have had good experiences at Lansdowne Road .

Therein lies the crucial difference. Fear of the unknown does not exist at Lansdowne Road. Dallaglio, Howley, Shaw, Joe Worsley and co have based their careers on the big stage.

2. THE LINEOUT

Wasps will have to put their lineout in order. Through the season, Manu Samoa s Trevor Leota has put his full weight behind a devastating aggression in the tackle and in possession of the ball. He is the heaviest first-class hooker in world rugby at 19st 10lbs.

His Achilles heel has been the wayward throwing to his main lineout markers Shaw and Dallaglio. The full house at Lansdowne Road will test his nerve and a swirling wind would examine his control of flight.

Of course, as Ireland forwards coach Niall O Donovan is always so quick, and so right, to assert, the lineout is not just about the thrower. There has to be proper organisation and speed on the ground and in the air.

The lifters will have to be spot on. Wasps predominantly rely on Shaw and Dallaglio and their lack of options should make it that bit easier for Paul O Connell, Donncha O Callaghan, Jim Williams and Anthony Foley to figure out their lineout calls.

Of course, Gatland is an experienced coach and he will have something up his sleeve. It is likely that 24 years old lock forward Richard Birkett or the taller Martin Purdy will be asked to take more responsibility as either one may not be a marked man.

3. HOWLEY AND DALLAGLIO

There is a reservoir of experience and a depth of knowledge between Robert Howley, 33, and Lawrence Dallaglio, 32, which will bind the Wasps forwards and backs together.

Howley retired from international rugby to work out the rest of his career at The Causeway Stadium. He has surpassed even his own expectations to become a central driving force behind a massively competitive set of forwards. He is still the best scrum-half in the British Isles.

Dallaglio is a remarkable character, as much off the field as on it. His leadership is vital. There was a time, however briefly, when he considered playing for Ireland. That would have had a detrimental effect on Anthony Foley s career.

As it is, Dallaglio is revered as the finest number eight in the tournament. He will relish the challenge, as he did when Wasps destroyed last year s beaten finalists Perpignan 34-6 at Stade Aime Giral in the most convincing performance by any team in the competition.

4. WASPS DEFENCE

Wasps operate a blitz defence. It is super-quick in advancing into the faces of the opposition and hugely physical in they way it seeks to stop runners and turnover possession.

Their massive back row has a weight average of just under 17 stones. When Paul Volley, Dallaglio and Worsley hit, they hit hard. The loss through injury of Johnny O Connor does deny them speed around the park, but they patrol the inside channels with menace.

That leaves the back three of Josh Lewsey, van Gisbergen and Tom Voyce to close down the threats out wide and England centres Fraser Waters and Stuart Abbott to provide the bulwark and security in midfield.

5. MUNSTERS MIDFIELD DEFENCE

At first, it seemed that Stade Francais s full back Ignacio Corleto and centre Brian Liebenberg had shown blistering skills to unlock Munster at Thomond Park.

On further investigation, Munster s midfield pair Mike Mullins and Rob Henderson was at fault in their defensive alignment.

Mullins showed Corleto the outside and was left in a tailspin and Henderson dived, ineffectively, at the ankles of Liebenberg. It was not the only time they were bypassed in traffic.

Arguably, both internationals have made their careers on the basis of what they do when they have the ball. They will have to be just as committed to the tackle as they are to the try line.

CONCLUSION

In short, Wasps have the more vaunted defence, the perfect link that is Dallaglio and Howley between back and forwards, and the release of playing at Lansdowne Road instead of Thomond Park.

If Trevor Leota and the rest of the pack can break-even at the lineout, Wasps will be close to making it to the Heineken Cup Final at Twickenham.

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