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Munster's Strength in Depth
2 February 2004, 12:47 pm
Two second half tries from Anthony Horgan went some way towards exorcising the memory of an opening half that was just short of dreadful in the Celtic League match on Friday night in Musgrave Park.
Two second half tries from Anthony Horgan went some way towards exorcising the memory of an opening half that was just short of dreadful in the Celtic League match on Friday night in Musgrave Park.

It must be assumed that coach Alan Gaffney had some strong words to impart to his side at the interval after he s watched them squander an early lead to trail by 13 points (21-8) before he could get his hands on them.

Whatever the manner in which the half-time chat was delivered it had the desired effect. That and the introduction of Mike Mullins, Dominic Crotty and Jeremy Flannery. Right from the restart there was a greater urgency as Munster set about overhauling the leaders and from his very first touch Mullins justified Gaffney s decision to introduce him to the play.

The veteran Crotty was rock solid at full-back while Flannery had his most impressive showing to date. However, it was another veteran who orchestrated this latest Munster victory more than anyone else. Jason Holland will be 32 in August and as such would be deemed to be in the twilight of his career. On Friday night he not only ran the show from the number 10 berth but featured in the moment that defined his contribution and probably decided the outcome.

With Munster leading 22-21 and the game drifting to a close, Borders made their way downfield for one final onslaught. They were stopped short on several occasions and then forced a five metre scrum slap-bang in front of the posts. Drop-goal time for impressive Borders fly-half, Tanner Vili.

A steady scrum and good clean ball enabled Vili get a crisp delivery from Gary Armstrong. Good contact from Vili and the ball flew goalwards only to meet Holland coming in the other direction at a rate of knots that saw the effort fail and Munster players hoover up the loose ball to save the situation.

Then, just for good measure, in injury-time, Holland feinted right before popping a beautifully cloaked pass inside for Rob Henderson to score under the posts. Bonus point for Munster that sees them move to fourth place in the table seven points behind leaders Ulster.

Holland was majestic throughout and Gaffney is indeed fortunate to have such a consummate professional to call on. In recent times he has played as a replacement as Mullins and Henderson hog the centre positions and Ronan O Gara rightly of course occupies No 10. But whenever he is sprung from the bench Holland makes an impact, evidenced most recently in Treviso when his arrival sparked an immediate upsurge in power in the backs.

His first action that afternoon was to smother an attacker in mid-field, strip the ball and set up the attack that resulted in a try. Holland does the basic thing splendidly and the splendid thing basically. His decision making is invariably right and when he carries the ball into contact, nine and a half times out of ten it comes back on the Munster side. Other contributions that will have pleased were those of lock David Pusey, Stephen Keogh operating at number eight in the absence of Anthony Foley and the pocket-rocket that is Mossie Lawlor.

Next weekend Musgrave Park will host the Celtic League game against Leinster and then it s back on the road again as Munster travel to Wales for a game against Llanelli Scarlets a contest that will go a long way to deciding Munster s fate in this year s competition.

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