It seems the 6-2 split is here to stay as Munster prepare to face the Lions

When Munster winger Calvin Nash failed a head injury assessment, Leinster’s Ciarán Frawley came on. Then Frawley also went down, leaving Conor Murray as Ireland’s other backline replacement

Munster’s bomb squad did what it had to do last week from the bench against the Bulls. With a 6-2 split, the play book from the 2023 and 2019 World Cups has shown Irish sides the benefits of horses for courses. With six forwards stacked on the bench and sometimes seven, coaches are embracing the risk-reward strategy.

It is one they feel is worth taking and players are now more than ever keen to demonstrate that they can line out in a number of positions and be effective.

With just two backline players on the bench and sides putting a premium on the power game, even positions like the specialist scrumhalf has to be utilitarian. Jamison Gibson-Park on the wing, or, stepping into outhalf, or even Munster backrow Jack O’Donoghue out on the wing. It’s not as outrageous as people may think.

“I would always say myself I can play across the three backrow positions,” says O’Donoghue. “Needs be I could go in the secondrow and I found myself on the wing. We were over in Durban last year and I found myself on the wing for the last 12, 13 minutes because that’s a position that I had trained for once or twice throughout the year as a worst-case scenario.


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“I was up against Makazole Mapimpi, a World Cup-winning winger. It is different but at the same I felt unbelievably calm. The fullback is talking to me every minute, talking me through exactly where I need to be and where I need to go. I was actually quite at ease at the same time. It was quite terrifying but the lads around you, you draw on their experience and their communication throughout the game.”

It may not be the choice of coach Graham Rowntree this week when Munster face off against the Lions. But the power bench is here to stay and was employed by Ireland in the Six Nations championship, although it failed against England due to backline injuries.

When Munster winger Calvin Nash failed a head injury assessment, Leinster’s Ciarán Frawley came on. Then Frawley also went down, leaving Conor Murray as Ireland’s other backline replacement. Murray went into the scrumhalf slot and Gibson-Park, due to his athleticism, was moved out wide.

“Two injuries to the backs and you could find yourself in big trouble. It’s a massive risk,” says O’Donoghue. “But I think we have it within the group that if we play 6-2 we can adapt, we can cover if needed. Thankfully, look it hasn’t been that case.

“I think it’s adapting to the conditions, adapting to the external factors like altitude and putting together a 23 that suits, to go out and play against the Bulls or the Lions and that’s important for the whole group.

“It’s a really good understanding for the group because no one is pissed off because we’re going to 6-2 or because you’re not a forward in the 23. It’s a squad-wide understanding that this really is the best for this week. It might not be the case for the Lions. But there are tactics going into certain games. Against the Bulls it was a 6-2 split and it was the right call as you can see.”

Craig Casey and Joey Carbery were the two backs on last week’s Munster bench with John Hodnett named at 23. The first wave of replacements came on after 51 minutes with Josh Wycherley, Casey, Gavin Coombes and Hodnett coming in. Tom Ahern, Eoghan Clarke and Oli Jager arrived 10 minutes later with Carbery replacing Nankivell on 66 minutes.

Hodnett made an instant impact on the game with a try within six minutes of coming off the bench.

“Josh Wycherly had an unbelievable hit in the 60-something minute,” says O’Donoghue. “You don’t realise ... somebody that’s been out there for 60 minutes he’s gasping for oxygen. It’s just a momentum change, it’s a big lift. The weight they can take off you by taking a few carries, putting you into right places. It’s vital. The role the bench played last weekend was vital for us to get the win.”

It seems the 6-2 split is here to stay.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times