Interpro for Show, HEC for the Pro

The pervading narrative in the build-up to the Leinster-Munster game this weekend has been the opportunity for some Munster players on the fringe of the Ireland squad to show their now-garlanded Irish team-mates what is what. But while this makes a nice story, the prospect of Dave Kilcoyne burning up a whilrwind in the Aviva won’t make a whole lot of difference to the outcome of Munster’s upcoming actual big game – the home tie with boring bosh merchants Toulouse.

The reality about the over-played rivalry thing is that Dave Kilcoyne and Stephen Archer haven’t been as good as Jack McGrath and Martin Moore this season, while Simon Zebo admits himself that:

“I’d be the first to say I can be inefficient there and sometimes don’t do too much at the breakdown . . . I’m not a Donncha O’Callaghan or a Paul O’Connell. I don’t hit as many rucks as they do. But when the ball does go wide, I need to be just as efficient as they are in securing ball . . . going forward I’d have no issues and I’d back myself every time. But there are definitely little parts I can iron out so at the back end I can be a better player.”

So while Simon Zebo goes off to think about unlesahing his inner Donncha O’Callaghan (we all have one, right?), Tommy O’Donnell can consider himself unlucky but there isn’t much between himself, Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy and NWJMB (at blindside) and the selections reflected that.  But that’s really all there is to it.  For all the chat about representation, it comes down to a couple of bench picks that were marginal calls.

The timing of the game in the week before the Heineken Cup knockouts is always something of a double-edged sword. It guarantees that each side will put out most of the frontliners (unlike, say the Christmas interpros), but neither side is particularly keen to delve into the playbook to give much away to the following week’s opponents. It tends to lead to full-blooded encounters, with both sides eager to get a good hit-out, but games which can be short on quality.  “Don’t give them anything lads, but whatever you do, don’t show Toulon any of that passing stuff we’ve been working on.  Just truck it up if you have to”.

If Penney and Axel are doing their jobs, they won’t want Munster to spend too much emotional energy this weekend, but save the majority of the hunger for next Saturday’s brunchtime (© G. Thornley) kickoff. Toulouse are far from the swashbuckling, French-majority team that wowed Europe for the guts of a decade – they are more like Toulon, a bruising behemoth of a side littered with South Africans. While they might be scratching around the lower reaches of the Top Quatorze playoffs on paper, it’s very tight and a top 2 position can’t be ruled out, if a win at Oyannax can be secured in three weeks. Plus Toulouse retain a bit of an institutional grá for the HEC – and they bulldozed down Globo Gym in Lahn during the group stages. They will be dangerous.

Munster are still well set to take Toulouse, who are not to be feared, as Connacht will attest to, particularly with Nigel “41 phases” Owens in possession of the whistle. That said, it will be a high intensity, bosh-friendly encounter, and while Munster’s pack is technically excellent, it is still rather light. If Penney and Axel are serious about targetting Europe, perhaps withdrawing the pack lieutenants on 60 minutes and potentially giving up the Leinster game to go for Europe.

At least Munster are favourites for their tie. For, with a daunting trip to Toulon in prospect, Leinster will be thinking the same thing, and don’t be surprised to see a few “injuries” before Saturday as they give some of the players involved with Ireland some down time ahead of Toulon. If Toulon are tougher opponents, Leinster are more battle-hardened than Munster with most of their panel having played test rugby over the last few weeks.

So sure, it might be fun to feed the Irish rugby media some nice bitter-rivalry style scraps from the table but it’s next week that’s going to determine how successful this year is for Leinster and Munster. And the provinces have that luxury as well – for Toulon and Toulouse, both the Top Quatorze and Europe are relevant, and, in a delicious piece of scheduling, they will be throttling the life out of each other in a boring drop goal contest at the Felix Mayol this weekend.

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  1. curates_egg

     /  March 27, 2014

    With Leinster missing McGrath, Moore, Furlong and (likely) Healy (as well as Ruddock), there are big question marks about the setpiece. Seems like all that guff about playing the 6 Nations champions is being revealed for the tripe it was. The reality is that Leinster has been hit by backboning the Irish 6 Nations side…to Munster’s benefit.

    Uncontested scrums anyone?

  2. “…the home tie with boring bosh merchants Toulouse.”

    Boring bosh merchants with serious firepower available in flavours including Picamoles, Huget, Fickou, Medard and Poitrenaud. They’re the club version of their own national side, in many many ways. So, fairly dangerous all told.

    Looking forward to this weekend’s game, but fancy Leinster to win by a score and a bit.

    • curates_egg

       /  March 27, 2014

      With Leinster not having a scrum, all bets are now off.

      • Ah now, don’t be exaggerating. Michael Bent’s form of late has shown a markedly upward curve. Perhaps this match could be his big successful outing in a blue shirt, we Leinster fans have been waiting for. I certainly hope so!!!

        • curates_egg

           /  March 27, 2014

          Hmm. He is definitely having a better season at loosehead, after the gongshow of last year at tighthead but it has not been all roses either. He has lost out against some Rabo sides. Either way, it is not great to be relying on him to start. It means Byrne is certain to come on at some point into a cauldron of a match.

    • Plenty of firepower no doubt, but more often than not they’re content to try and grind down the opposition. As you say, they’re a club version of their national side… so fairly dangerous… but more often than not, not all that pretty or effective.

      • Agreed, pretty much exactly like France.

        At least they don’t play like Biarritz.

  3. Will

     /  March 27, 2014

    Munster won’t win anything this year.
    Maybe next year with a new backs coach, JJ kicking on and 1 or 2 new centres depending on where Earls plays.

  4. Leinsterlion

     /  March 27, 2014

    Summoning my inner Kevin Keegan, I would love it, love it, if we battered them up front on the weekend, forget about spreading it wide, I want us to scrum them into the mud, send big runners right down POMs throat, keep our heads and batter them off the park. If only to preempt the forthcoming Archer/Kilcoyne brouhaha if they do exactly that to us.

    The difference between Toulon/Toulouse V Leinster/Munster is they have the squad depth to kick the head off one another, as you point out neither Munster nor Leinster can really afford to do that. Its a balancing act between going for the win and tooling up for the bigger game around the corner, yet neither team will want to take their foot off the others head. It’ll be down to which coach doesnt have a cranium implosion and bottles it with the inevitable replacements, we have more talent across the park, but losing a chunk of our front will hurt, a lot.

    • curates_egg

       /  March 27, 2014

      Scrum them into the mud with Jack O’Connell, Michael Bent and Ed Byrne? I would definitely love that but it seems a bit far-fetched.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 27, 2014

        Exactly why I summoned my inner Keegan, cant see it happening, but I would love it, as we are (rightly) being written off in the front row.

        • curates_egg

           /  March 27, 2014

          Which is why my utopian dream would be for parity in the set pieces and for “ordinary Dave” to show the Zuperstar why he is a 6 Nations champ. Forecast is for a dry evening but a soggy pitch. It could be a match to forget.

          • But .. but … biggest rivalry in the world!!!

          • It’s the match-up Ireland has been waiting to see: Simon Zebo, a player with pace, flair, and skills, versus Dave Kearney, the best ruck resourcer you’ll find on the wing. My mouth is watering in anticipation.

          • curates_egg

             /  March 27, 2014

            @thoughtless We had that match-up this time last year and Kearney was well on top before the thing happened that nobody is allowed talk about.

          • I jogged my memory by watching the highlights packages from the game there, no sign of Dave I’m afraid. He’s not much of a highlights package player, really. I assume he must have impressed you by wriggling his way through a couple of tackles for an extra couple of metres and using textbook technique at the breakdown. Maybe he can score a try for Leinster this weekend, heaven knows he’s due one, the 14th of September is a long time ago.

          • Miaow.

            It was an ugly messy game, with lots of niggle already before the incident that cannot be mentioned, but Kearney was having a great game. “The highlights” only show scores, as you know. Try rewatching actual games if you want to get a true impression of a player’s impact.

            I was actually disappointed Zuperstar didn’t make the cut for the 6 Nations and repeatedly stated so…but he only has himself to blame. Hopefully, he will apply himself to the less “highlights package” parts of the game, so he can get himself in the reckoning again for Ireland. So long as he waits until after this weekend to start 😉

          • I thought the incident that cannot be mentioned happened after the Lions tour, not before, and didn’t include any Leinster players, but I guess that just shows how out of touch I am. Must spend more time on Twitter.

          • You may notice I’ve been cultivating the chip on my shoulder! But only for a weekend, will be cheering Leinster on in Toulon in no time at all. I think Dave Kearney is a fine player, of course, and I’ll take your word for it that he was playing well that day, as I’ve no desire to rewatch an arm wrestle from a year ago. He certainly doesn’t strike fear into the heart for this weekend, though. In any case, best of luck to your lot, I hope we batter ye out the gate after a fine performance by both teams setting them up for Heineken Cup triumphs.

          • curates_egg

             /  March 28, 2014

            Looks like we will be deprived of the match-up anyway. McFadden and Fitz on the wings. Strong side apart from the dearth of props.

          • curates_egg

             /  March 31, 2014

            After all that…Earls was possibly the best back on display. Zebo was without doubt the worst winger. Totally ineffective. That should end the ‘debate’.

  5. Paddy

     /  March 27, 2014

    Terrible stuff lads!
    I think we all know what this is about…..Munster getting revenge on Schmidt for punishing Zebo by selecting Dave Kearney because Paul O’Connell kicked him in the head last year in Thomond park! Cut to the f*ckin chase!

  6. Not Michael Bent

     /  March 27, 2014

    I don’t want to try and interject with something nice to say, but I have to say I’ve been quite impressed with Zebo’s comments in the press this week.
    “But there are definitely little parts I can iron out so at the back end I can be a better player.”

    I’m a Blue all the way, but even I would be delighted to see Zeebs becoming a more rounded player, and he’s making all the right noises.
    Step two (the bigger step) is to actually do the work, but publicly (at least), that’s a good start.

    • SportingBench

       /  March 27, 2014

      Your right. Zebo’s comments this week are a lot more mature and self aware than most of both his supporters and his detractors in the media give him credit for

      • Bozo

         /  March 28, 2014

        Thus giving Joe additional vindication (not that he needed it) on by not selecting him

  7. D6W

     /  March 31, 2014

    Once again Joe has been proved correct. I was impressed by Zebo’s comments, and I would love to see him fight for an Ireland place. And Saturday was his opportunity. But he blew it.

    It wasn’t that he tried to hard, it was that he did not appear to try at all. Every time he got the ball, he seemed to jog to the gain line, or look for the first opportunity to pass it away. It was truly puzzling the way he played.

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