Stickability

Another year, another heartbreaking, soul-stirring semi-final defeat for Munster. They’re making a habit of semi-final defeats; 2009 to Leinster, 2011 to Biarritz, 2013 to Clermont and this year to Toulon. The last time they won one was in 2008, narrowly edging out an obdurate pre-Globo Gym-era Saracens team. They haven’t been helped by having to go away from home on every occasion, but it looks like this is their level for now; going deep into the tournament but not quite having what it takes to win it. That’s not an insult, and there are few teams capable of consistently make it to the last two weekends of the competition.

This was a pulsating, riveting semi-final. We said it would diverge from last year’s Clermont game in that Toulon would pull away in the third quarter. We were half-right at best. Toulon certainly threatened a rout in the third quarter, but when Armitage was deemed not to have scored in the corner, Simon Zebo’s superb cover tackle improbably saving the day, something very similar to the Clermont game happened. Toulon seemingly couldn’t believe their supremacy wasn’t better reflected on the scoreboard and they became error-strewn and jittery. When Munster managed not only to hang on by their fingernails, but suddenly respond with a (dubious) try of their own, Toulon were rattled, and suddenly Munster were right in the match. Indeed, they had a kick to take the lead that fell narrowly wide.  Munster’s stickability has to be commended; plenty of teams would have crumpled in that onslaught.  Indeed, Leinster did crumble in very similar circumstances.

There’ll be plenty of what-ifs and reflections on those moments that got away. Munster conspicuously failed to make the most of their extra-man advantage, conceding a ridiculous penalty immediately after scoring one of their own, and Delon Armitage’s booming long-range kick before half-time looked spirit-crushing.  Plenty of Toulon’s points felt cheaply won, and unnecessary.  Some indiscipline in the first half was costly.

The decision to go for the try from the penalty late in the match will also be poured over. It’s easy to be a Hindsight Harry and say it was wrong because they didn’t score a try, but we questioned it at the time. It was a category one error. Surely the right move was to close the gap to two points? The difference between needing a try to win in the final five minutes and needing a drop goal or penalty is vast. It completely changes the complexion of how the defending team approaches things. If they can’t give away a penalty, they won’t dare contest at the ruck, and a steady supply of quick ball can be generated. Teams looking for a try late in matches rarely score them, unless they’re New Zealand, because they have fewer cards to play in attack. Grubber-kicks and chips over the backline are generally taken out of the equation. Play the percentages and take the points!

In truth, Munster can’t have too many complaints about Wayne Barnes, much as they (and Gerry) would love to. They got plenty of breaks.  Sure, the scrum was a lottery but it pretty much balanced out in the end. Lobbe’s carding looked absurdly harsh. He wasn’t behaving recklessly, and sometimes extremities come together; this looked a case of that and no more. As for Zebo’s try, it seemed extraordinary that it was awarded without recourse to the TMO. The touchjudge persuaded Barnes that the try was legitimate, but it seemed from looking at the angles on telly that he didn’t even have a clear view of the only moment where it could have been grounded.

Nonetheless, Munster bow out of the Heineken Cup with great honour and the future looks good. Ian Keatley will never be Ronan O’Gara, but he has blossomed this season. James Coughlan remains a granite-hard rock on which the pack is founded. Robin Copeland arrives next season, but he will need a crowbar to get Coughlan out of the team.  Conor Murray is among the global elite, a piece of absolute class. Simon Zebo is showing he has the workrate to merit a recall to test level. The bedrock is there and it will be up to Axel Foley to keep improving the squad – with centre a flashing red light in spite of the efforts of Oooooooooooooohhh and Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh.

There’s still silverware to be played for in the season, and Munster would do well to try and switch focus quickly. In the past, they’ve tended to shut up shop once they fall out of the Heineken Cup (excepting 2011 where the timing and nature of their exit ensured it couldn’t happen). Last year their season petered out to nothing after Clermont. An away semi-final in Scotstoun is likely and they have a pishun-stirring game against Ulster to come. Turn up to either looking bored and distracted and the sense of a great season with huge improvements in performances will start to dissipate. Rob Penney should make sure minds are as focussed as they can be on the sending him off with some silverware.

Turning briefly to the other semi-final, as much as it sticks in the craw to acknowledge it, Saracens were simply brilliant against Clermont – the penalty try decision looked pretty harsh to say the least, but it was in the first 10 minutes. Saracens turned the screw in a pretty impressive manner, and handing Clermont a 40-burger is mighty admirable – we haven’t been bothered to dig out the statistics yet, but it is surely a HEC knockout stage record and a clumping you’d never expect from Clermont, in spite of their mental frailties.

We’ll still be able to say Saracens are a soulless (tick) bunch of foreign (tick) money-grabbing (tick) easy-to-despise (see Ashton, C.) proto-franchise, but we cannot any longer say they play up-the-jumper bosh-heavy rugger or that they are flat-track bullies who can easily humiliate the likes of Zebre and Connacht but lie down before the big boys. They fully deserve their place in the final, even if regrets are multiplying for Ulster fans after seeing Clermont in the flesh. The likes of Gerry and Ryle Nugent have been taking great delight in equating Saracens and Toulon, but the differences are legion – Toulon have many more supporters and a much deeper club infrastructure and history, are richer, and have much better players; and in style terms, its Saracens who play the better football.

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70 Comments

  1. Despite being a complete neutral now for the final, I’m looking forward to it. If Saracens had played like that in Ravenhill they would probably have beaten us, Payne and all. Hopefully they do the same against Toulon and the latter step things up a bit. Ashton was seriously impressive and like Zebo has probably earned a Test recall.

    Munster having the Heineken to distract them would have been handy for Ulster’s Pro12 run-in though 😦

  2. Good point WOC.
    I don’t actually think the Munster performance yesterday was all that different to Leinster, only that Munster managed that to hold onto Toulon far more effectively in that period after HT. Had either Armitage or Roussow touched down we might have seen a different last half hour.

    I think the constant ‘pride and passion’ stuff is actually getting patronising towards a Munster team who were very much a match for Toulon and could have won that with a different centre partnership, Cronin starting and a bit of luck.

    Billy Keane in today’s Indo is nauseating for example.

    • This is one of our biggest bugbears. The skill and ability of the Munster team is necessarily downplayed by attributing their performances to an intangible like “bravery”. It wilfully underplays the phenomenal talent of the likes of O’Connell, Murray and Zebo and seems content to pigeon-hole aynd pat on the head the likes of Cawlin

      • Yes and no. I think it’s a pity for skill etc to be downplayed in favour of cliches but on the other hand it was a brave performance and Munster did stand up and fight, moreso than Leinster in the previous fixture. They are a club of huge history and personality in the competition and it definitely did have a bearing on yesterday and deserved mention. I don’t think you have to jettison one to pay full tribute to the other but a better balance would certainly be worth striving for. I’d imagine it’s the legend that sells more papers tho!

        • I don’t actually agree there Kate. As I’ve said above, the game actually wasn’t that different to Leinster, only the floodgates opened against Leinster and didn’t against Munster.

          I think it’s disingenuous to constantly say that one professional rugby team has more ‘fight’ or ‘passion’ than another. We should be past that stage now.

          The slavering of the past is being repeated today by the likes of Keane, it’s both unpalatable but also incredibly cliched. We should be demanding more of our journalists than ‘it was the refs fault’ or ‘brave Munster fall short despite outpassioning Toulon’.

          • This is the very reason we started this little community. And the quality of the debate below the line makes it really.

          • I don’t think that’s accurate. Not only can different professional teams have different personalities and/or styles but so can individual performances by different teams. Professional doesn’t mean generic. I think the way in which Munster is covered is both inaccurate and one-dimensional but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for colour either.

            Disagree also it was down to the Toulon floodgates opening, Munster kept them largely closed and Leinster didn’t. It was definitely a superior Toulon performance in the quarters but that’s not the whole story either

          • I think what Oval Digest probably means to say is that the game *could* have turned out the same as the Leinster match, if say, Steffon Armitage had scored that try.

            But he didn’t, so it turned out quite different altogether. Zebo’s tackle allowed Munster to come swinging off the ropes and changed the game utterly. Tight margins, single game-changing moments, etc. but that’s rugby at the sharp end for you.

          • I’m not saying there’s no room for colour at all. However, the passion, never say die, nobody beats Munster twice stuff is consistently overplayed to the detriment of more reasoned analysis. You’re dead right in saying different teams can have different personalities, yet it always seems to be the same yawn inducing response to any big Munster from the same pundits no matter what happens.

            Just look at the response today. There were numerous reasons why Munster lost that game, why not focus on them rather than the ‘bravery’ aspect. As far as I’m concerned, any Irish pro team should have the same motivation before a big European game.

            You’ve also got the fallacy of the ‘Munster hordes’ guff that’s parroted too.

            I also think you picked me up wrong on the Leinster comparison. Of course Munster kept them largely closed, but my point was it’s fine margins between the game being over if Armitage doesn’t put his foot out or Russouw doesn’t knock on. It was almost the exact same for Leinster – completely in it at HT despite being beaten around the pitch, Toulon come on and turn up the heat.

            They got over against Leinster, they didn’t against Munster and they stayed upright. It’s fine margins.

          • Yeah that’s why I’m calling for a better balance in how it’s covered, keeping some colour without resorting to cliche, which is what I said in the first place. I don’t actually see what you’re disagreeing with me on to be honest

  3. Stephen

     /  April 28, 2014

    Regardless of who actually wins the last Heineken Cup Final: money has won this year.

  4. ruckinhell

     /  April 28, 2014

    Munster hung in for the first 50 by the fingernails and then managed to claw their way back into the match but they were very much the architects of their own downfall. This is no disrespect to Toulon as that is the core of their gameplan, build up a sizeable lead with pennos and drop goals and then force the opposition to play silly in chasing a try. The difference was Munster actually fought back to something near parity but the decision to go for the corner was a poor percentage calland the Toulon guys watching with me were delighted.

    Does Barnes have a skill in constantly coming up with controversial decisions? The TMO call was incorrect, although I do understand that he feels a need to trust his touch judge. His comments to Heyman were interesting when he starting penalising him towards the end of the first half- “I gave you the benefit of the doubt earlier but I’m not having it anymore”. For each of the three Kilcoyne penalties in the first half Heyman’s knees went straight to the floor immediately and he wasn’t making any attempt to support his weight.

    Munster are close again but no cigar. The existing 12/13 combo has never quite worked, will be forced to change through departure of LLL and retirement of Downey, fingers crossed we can cobble together a more suitable combo. JJ and a SH import as a combo?

    • Yossarian

       /  April 28, 2014

      Barnes reffing of the scrum was ridiculous. He tells Hayman “i know you just slipped and lost your footing” if that is the case then it is a reset.He didn’t commit a foul to gain an advantage. Same for Kilcoyne first half. Only two completed scrums and i can’t recall a reset once.He just didn’t want to know at scrum time.

  5. Sound Steve

     /  April 28, 2014

    Did no one else see the reverse angle for the try? About as clear cut as you get.

    The Toulon bosh merchants tag is pretty lazy. Bastareaud is their only back who really fits that tag. Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Armitage, Habana are hardly mutants and the rugby they played yesterday was pretty expansive.

    Does the Lobbe incident not get filed alongside the Payne incident under Duty of Care/Carelessness?

    Saracens were very professional but it’s not so hard to win a home semi when you’re given a 21 point head start by the ref. I think a lot of credit should go to Mark McCall as it is clear to see that they are a very well-coached side – excellent defence, tactically astute, disciplined, professional. Once Schmidt gets the heave-ho, Ireland could do worse than McCall on current form.

    • curates_egg

       /  April 28, 2014

      I saw it (on French TV) but was that not a double movement (even if in the opposite direction)? That is my interpretation of IRB law anyway. He made two attempts to ground before turning his body another way and grounding.

      I thought the Lobbe card was correct though. You cannot put the boot in if there is a face there. It is up to the ref to sanction but yellow seemed correct.

      • Sound Steve

         /  April 28, 2014

        But surely it’s only a double movement if you get the ball to ground in the first place though, no? So either way it’s a try as I’d see it. If it happened anywhere else on the pitch it wouldn’t be in any way questionable in my opinion.

        • They showed one replay on Sky of the grounding from a hand-held/touchline camera, which replicated the touch-judge’s angle pretty well: the grounding looked nailed on. There wasn’t even a suggestion of a double movement, Zebo never stopped moving and did not make multiple attempts to place the ball. Great finish.

          • Sound Steve

             /  April 28, 2014

            That’s the shot I’m talking about – it was pretty definitive.

            They showed it about 5 mins after the try so it may have been missed by some.

          • curates_egg

             /  April 28, 2014

            He made 3 attempts to place the ball for certain (two on the dead ball side and, finally, one successful on the goal line side). Maybe it’s not a double movement but that is my interpretation. Totally immaterial anyway. It was given but was not decisive.

    • I thought it was always a try and delighted the TJ gave it the nod without all the faffing around with the TMO.
      For the more pedantically minded (like me!), there’s no double movement in rugby (it’s a League term), Zebo was all the way over the line when he had a few goes so it wasn’t momentum and “A scrum, ruck or maul can take place only in the field of play.” so he can do much as he pleases if they can’t stop him. (22.6).

      http://www.irblaws.com/index.php?section=9
      Law 22.4
      (d) Momentum try. If an attacking player with the ball is tackled short of the goal line but the player’s momentum carries the player in a continuous movement along the ground into the opponents’ in-goal, and the player is first to ground the ball, a try is scored.
      (e) Tackled near the goal line. If a player is tackled near to the opponents’ goal line so that this player can immediately reach out and ground the ball on or over the goal line, a try is scored.
      Law 22.10
      When a player carrying the ball is held up in the in-goal so that the player cannot ground the ball, the ball is dead. A 5-metre scrum is formed. This would apply if play similar to a maul takes place in in-goal. The attacking team throws in the ball.

      • curates_egg

         /  April 29, 2014

        I knew someone would pull up the ‘double movement’ bit (they always do). Mole you auld divil 😉 That is what law 22 has become euphemistically/vernacularly known as though. A rose by any other name and all that.

        Anyway, he definitely grounded the ball, so if ‘double movement’ (or law 22) only applies outside the goal area, then it is a definite try.

        One thing for sure is that Zebo is strong and elusive in the tackle. This is not the first time he has wriggled his way to a grounding against the odds.

  6. Murray and Zebo were top class. Whatever about Varley’s throwing in, which again was a weak point, his decision to go to the corner was correct, in my opinion; Munster however lacked the composure to go through God knows how many phases necessary to get the touch town (admittedly the opposition had something to say about that). I was delighted Ian Keatley put in such a fine performance. Who would have thought him capable of it after his horror show against Ulster in January? Would that MO’C might at some stage back up Ian Madigan to the same extent as Penney did Keatley then; it could potentially work wonders. It’s going to be some dogfight now between Munster and Ulster for a place in the Rabo playoffs. I hope Saracens beat Toulon in the Heino final, one, because they’ve never won it before and will prevent Toulon from doing so twice, and two, cos they’ve an Irish coach.

  7. curates_egg

     /  April 28, 2014

    Good write-up. Great performance by Munster as a team and individuals.
    Coughlan was phenomenal. The half-backs were very good (Keatley is surely now above Madigan in the pecking order?). It was also the most complete Zebo performance I have seen this year. All of interest for the summer tour.

    That they were still in it with 7 minutes to go (Zebo grounding aside) is testament to both their commitment and the shrewder approach to the game (and breakdown) they brought (compared to Leinster).

    While hindsight is 20:20, like everyone I watched with (and it seems most online), I could not understand the decision not to go for the posts with 8 minutes left and 5 points down. That was my judgement at the time and it remains. If it was 6 points, I get it, but 5 points, I do not. 2 points down, with 7 minutes to play, receiving the ball from a kick-off, with Toulon rattled, is a great place to be. We will never know.

    As for Clermont, while they definitely got ridden by Owens early on, it was very surprising to see them totally chuck it in. Other French teams do this but Clermont is supposedly a proud club. Their supporters were justifiably disgusted based on what I have read and seen.

    Oh well, now we all have to cheer for Toulon in the final, as the lesser of two evils.

    • osheaf01

       /  April 28, 2014

      “(Keatley is surely now above Madigan in the pecking order?)”

      You are, in Payne/Lobbe style, neglecting your duty of care to LeinsterLion’s mental health by uttering such an unthinkable profanity.
      What heresy next?
      Zebo/Earls better wingers than McFadden/Average Dave??

      • Yossarian

         /  April 28, 2014

        Earls was awful. Would be lucky to make the plane to Argentina based on that game.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  April 28, 2014

        I have long indicated my preference for wingers with pace and criticised the selection of the Leinster utility players over genuine wingers, and no, Keatley is not better then Madigan, he’s merely better coached.

        • curates_egg

           /  April 28, 2014

          It’s certainly not Madigan’s fault in my opinion (clearly some grudge between him and MOC) but that can’t hide the fact that Keatley is ahead on form.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  April 28, 2014

            Of course, form-wise Madigan is probably near the bottom of Irish tens atm, but talent level wise he’s only below Sexton, easily the highest ceiling of every ten in the system, its up to the coach to get him to play at that level and fulfill his potenital, and MOC hasnt done that

          • krustie92

             /  April 29, 2014

            I’m not 100% sure this will end up being replied to the right person its directed at leinsterlion. “Madigan has the highest ceiling of every ten in the system”, have you checked every underage 10? The J2s? The college 10s? The ones who just started tip rugby? What a load of a tripe! Fan-*******-tastic. You’re no fair weather supporter, good job but there is no way on the last two Year of rugby you could pick Madigan ahead of keatley. Whether that is due to coaching or not Madigan is easily an asses roar on current performance levels off national selection. If he foes get picked it is not as bad but worse than donnacha getting picked by kidney. At least donnacha had pedigree. Madigan has only promise. Which Jackson and keatley also have and is delivering significantly more return on.

          • Kelly Peters

             /  April 29, 2014

            @krustie92

            I know I’m not the right person but I agree with you 100%. I’ve watched Madigan since he was a schoolboy and and never really bought into the hype. He’s never been a great tactical kicker or game manager, two key attributes of a top class flyhalf. I wish he’d made the move to the centres years ago because he’d make a fantastic second 58. Having D’Arcy who has a similar build and background to mentor him could’ve been the perfect arrangement. With ball in hand he is a fantastic player, with an eye for a gap and supreme confidence. Everyone got caught up in the hype last year after a few exceptional games, driven by the media who love the idea of a good looking, well spoken young player who plays the game in an exciting way. He was an easy sell to those marketing the game and they tend to drive the narratives. He’ll make the plane to Argentina given he’s a Schmidt guy and he doesn’t seem to trust Jackson but in terms of form, experience and sheer exposure I’d bring Jackson and Keatley.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  April 29, 2014

            @Krustie, obviously I’m not counting schoolboys, Academy and upwards. Keatley has no where near the potential to be better then Madigan, Madigan tore teams apart last year, Keatley playing his best game for Munster(when the opp is taken into account) still hasnt looked as good as Madigan at his best.
            “If he foes get picked it is not as bad but worse than donnacha getting picked by kidney. At least donnacha had pedigree. Madigan has only promise” LOL, terrible analogy, Donners was shot, couldnt play at the pace of the game, Madigan clearly can, he’s merely badly coached by MOC playing neanderthal rugby, you are supposed to pick summer tours on promise, they are meaningless games, you should never select on pedigree over promise if both are in bad form, better to find out if the promise can deliver.

            @Kelly, awful idea, only in Ireland is a ten having a brilliant running game viewed as detrimental, Madigan is not a 12, he doesnt have the size for it. He is Leinster and Ireland ten of the future, the only thing standing in his way is MOC.

          • Kelly Peters

             /  April 29, 2014

            @leinsterlion – Where did I say having a ten with a brilliant running game is detrimental? Nowhere did I even imply that. What I said was that a ten’s initial skills have to be as a game manager and the attacking skills are a secondary consideration. That’s why Andrew Mehrtens has 70 caps to Carlos Spencer’s 30 odd. O’Gara was the finest game manager I’ve ever seen in Ireland but Sexton is a better ten because, while not a better game manager or tactical kicker, he combines being a game manager with a strong running game. Madigan in his career has never shown the ability to control a game.

            As for not having the size he’s similar height and weight as Gordan D’Arcy, Wesley Fofana, Ryan Crotty, Francis Saili, Pat Lambie and Christian Lealiifano who all are all playing or have played 12 at the highest level. Plus he’s only a few kg’s lighter than Bam Bam Marshall.

          • krustie92

             /  April 29, 2014

            Also @leinsterlion its definitely debatable if he’s got the highest ceiling.
            JJ is still not even 22. Has junior rwc player of the tournament nomination. And handles the pressure situations well already. 90% plus conversion ratio in rabo(granted by and large Keatley has been given the big games this season) and saved Munsters bacon twice in as many games this season.

        • In relation to Madser, he could be a quality second centre when Drico retires. Great passer, good outside break, awareness of players around him and a brave, technically good tackler if a little on the light side. Add in the place kicking and it’s not a bad deal at all. I’ve no faith in Luke Fitz’s ability to play there mainly due to his passing and awareness. That’s not to write Madigan off as an outhalf but I think it’s worth looking at, particularly if Leinster get Sexton at the end of his Metro deal.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  April 29, 2014

            I think its a way to stifle a player, its grand if you are an ordinary ten like Noel Reid and you turn him into a 12, but countless players Gegerthy(sp), Flood, Hook, Giteau, Hernandez, McAllister etc etc. Have all not reached the level predicted of them due to being moved from their original position. I also think Madigan isnt fast enough to make up for his lack of size a-la Fofana. Would you like to see him one on one with say Sam Burgess steaming onto a popped pass in the twelve channel? Surefire way to break a player.

            I would have faith in Luke switching to the centers if he wasnt made of glass/prone to making stupid reads in defence. Possibly rose tinted glasses, but he was a pretty serviceable 12 when Darce was out AFAIR. We just need to give Macken a brain transplant or get him to turn into a bosh merchant and we will be fine for 13 and push McFadden back in there, with Reid competing long term.

          • brain transplant and a pair of hands that don’t have stickum on them. I’m hearing ya on the curse of versatility but I’m having doubts about Madser’s lack of variety at 10. I’ve seen your argument about Matt O’Connor and admit that I suspect the same, Gopperth plays similar where he stands too deep and shovels it on a lot. We shall see!
            I think Luke Fitz could make a decent 12 alright but not a 13. In a similar vein I’d have Mads at 13 before 12. All from the cheap seats as GT has become fond of saying.

          • Sound Steve

             /  April 29, 2014

            Not sure on that one, I’d query Madigan’s pace, physicality and defence (execution and adherence to systems) for 13. I’d back Luke if he got a run of games at 13, where I think issues like defensive awareness will improve. I can’t say I’ve noticed any deficiencies in his passing game (not to say they don’t exist) but his footballing ability and awareness of those around him have generally impressed me.

      • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

         /  April 28, 2014

        This season has seen Wee PJ solidify, Madge slip back (MO’C doing him no favours) & Keatley stepping up to the plate as a third credible option as back-up to JS. Not sure there’ll be much between them next year. Good from strength in depth POV, but might be better to have one outstanding candidate & a little bit of the ‘breathing down his neck’ scenario of recent years.

        • Madigan certainly hasn’t helped himself with his performances and kicking from hand.

          Keatley and PJ to tour Arg for me at this stage.

          • Well, given Murray is miles ahead of the competition at scrum-half, wouldn’t picking Keatley ensure an all-Munster half-back combo – I thought we as Ireland were fundamentally opposed to picking halves from the same province?

          • curates_egg

             /  April 28, 2014

            Disagree there. Madigan has actually performed well enough when given the chance (no worse than the other pretenders). The media narrative hasn’t been as kind though and that is because he is clearly not ‘in favour’ with the coach, and has not been selected.

            The only reason I am saying Keatley is ahead is because he is being backed by his coach and allowed a run of games and is rewarding his coach. Madigan is not being given a chance by O’Connor (for whatever reason) and, as a result, is now behind Jackson and Keatley IMO. Not because of his performances or talent though.

          • When has Madigan performed well for Leinster this season?
            In fits and spurts if at all. The Northampton game is always given as an example but if you re-watch that it was the perfect Madigan game that his pack controlled for him and all he needed to do was run and pass.

            Played ok against Munster but nothing really close to the performance Keatley put in yesterday to be honest in a HEC SF in the south of France.

            Whatever about the media narrative, the ‘fan narrative’ hasn’t been kind to MOC despite the fact that the choice between Madigan and Gopperth is actually pretty close. It’s confirmation bias at its worst to try to talk up Madigan’s season this year to be honest.

          • curates_egg

             /  April 29, 2014

            Straw man alert! Where did I “talk up Madigan’s season”?

            Definitely, in the fits and starts he has had, he has been below the highs he hit last season…but how can an outhalf have a chance if he is not being backed by his coach and given a run of games? This droning narrative about game management and him not playing well is really grating though. The reality is that all of the back-ups to Sexton have some good games and some bad games. Madigan’s main ‘problem’ is clearly that he is not being supported by his coach, not being picked (for whatever reason) and so we don’t even know. However, he has done well in some of the games he has started.

            It doesn’t change my original point though that, on this season, Keatley has to be ahead of him now in the pecking order. If things at Leinster don’t change for Madigan (i.e. if the difference with O’Connor can’t be reconciled), he would have to consider moving.

          • Yossarian

             /  April 29, 2014

            Less than 12 months ago Madigan was getting the media attention based on some excellent performances,it was hype, but it was founded on solid play.He deservedly got capped in USA. Keatley was being sent off to play in the “emerging Ireland” side where he should have dominated instead he looked ordinary.
            Keatley had arguably his best game ever for Munster at the weekend, Madigan clearly has issues with the game he is being asked to play/some sort of coaching issues. A lot can change in rugby quickly. They aren’t different players but clearly in different form.

          • Sound Steve

             /  April 29, 2014

            I’m with Oval Digest on this. Ian Madigan, if evaluated on individual attributes (passing, goal-kicking, running), is an excellent player. However, for me his decision-making and territorial kicking are ropey at best and I find his defending highly suspect. People seem to equate talent having a good pass but I believe there is considerable talent in consistently making correct decisions under pressure. While he looks good in the Rabo with a dominant pack, I’ve yet to see him play well in a tight game where he isn’t getting silver service from his pack.

          • curates_egg

             /  April 29, 2014

            As Mole noted above, he is an excellent tackler, so please don’t just throw up another canard. He is certainly a better defender than Keatley – for the purposes of this comparison.

          • Sound Steve

             /  April 30, 2014

            Well, for an excellent tackler, he was left on his arse by both Zebo and Earls (neither giants) in the recent Munster match having gone much too high. And, as Bobby points out above, in his 40 mins of rugby in the Autumn Internationals he was part of two defensive lapses that led to tries so I feel pretty justified in questioning his defence.

        • Bobby T

           /  April 30, 2014

          ‘An excellent tackler’ – yet another individual attribute as pointed out by Sound Steve. In all honesty I have never really noticed Madigan’s defence being a strength or a weakness except in the one moment where it mattered more than any (NZ T-30 seconds) and he came up short – due to poor decision making and an inability to read the situation (exactly the attributes his detractors say he lacks). If you don’t agree with that speak to Sean O’Brien. The guys is very possibly the most talented back in the country but talent doesn’t get you everywhere and he needs to improve the aspects of his play that aren’t great. If he looks to run everything it will just get sniffed out every tie. You cant play in the gain line if the opposition know you have no intention of kicking for example. I hope he gets the game time he needs to improve his game but he is miles behind Jackson, certainly, and Keatley, maybe, in terms of his overall ability to play 10.

    • He played well for the Wolfhounds against the Saxons, scoring a try and contributed strongly to our victories against Glasgow, Zebre and Munster, till it was decided to give
      Gopperth the nod against Toulon. For the match thereafter against the Ospreys he didn’t even make the bench, for which no explanation was provided. I agree with Leinsterlion and think that Madigan has the greatest potential after Sexton, and bemoan the fact, that MO’C, for whatever reason, is failing to help him achieve it.

      • In the Glasgow game, he again failed to control a game we should have won a lot easier.
        He was injured for the Ospreys game.

        Give out about MOC all you want or talk about ‘potential’ but the fact is, Madigan has done nothing to really grab his position and is being made into some sort of martyr despite the fact he has huge flaws in his game that have been evident for a long time.

        • krustie92

           /  April 29, 2014

          “Madigan has done nothing to really grab his position and is being made into some sort of martyr despite the fact he has huge flaws in his game that have been evident for a long time.”

          I completely agree. This isn’t a hundred miles away from what happened with Schmidt. Madigan may be better than Goppereth but if he doesn’t fit the system suited for the other 14/22 players do then Goppereth gets the call. Leinster have lost two of their main core players last year in Isa and Sexton, on that basis MOC has made a judgement call to move away from the Schmidt modus operandi which is his prerogative as coach. Penney got lambasted a short 15ish months ago for changing the old style. Look at how foolish Munster branch are looking for letting him go.

  8. Stevo

     /  April 28, 2014

    Wayne Barnes pioneered going to the TMO for every decision long before it became standard practise for refs to do so, so when he chose yesterday to take the word of his linesman (who was clearly unsighted!) I began to get the feeling that it was going to be Munster’s day. Alas, it was not to be, and I have to agree that going to the corner was a poor decision.

    I get the feeling that Irish provincial rugby is back where it was in the first half of the 2000s, able to challenge in Europe and threaten occasionally, but lacking that last bit of quality or oomph to get over the finish line. Whether we’ll see any of our sides climbing back to the top of the tree any time soon is questionable, and I doubt we’ll ever see a period like 2006 to 2012 where we were utterly dominant. The presence of Saracens and Toulon in the final is ominous, given how they symbolize crass commercialism and moneybags patronage respectively (and yes, I know Toulon are at least a real club with lots of fans).

    • There’s lots to like about Toulon as a team and as a club (Armitage not withstanding) and I was really impressed by their supporters at the final last year, who far outshone the much celebrated Ultra Vulcans et al but it does sadden me that the last Heineken Cup Final will be contested by two teams who very much seem to have bought their way there.

      It’s a hard thing to talk about in some ways. I was trying to explain my various issues with Saracens to my boss on Friday and he came back with “Sounds just like most football clubs.” Exactly the problem is my initial feeling but is that hopelessly naive and are those levels of investment necessary to drive rugby forward or does it in fact stymy the global development not he game outside rugby strongholds if you can’t compete without bags of cash?

      • Leinsterlion

         /  April 28, 2014

        We have the player levels to offset the moneybags, but if the provinces and IRFU continue to treat the club game as lepers and only utilise schools rugby as a conveyor we will have pretty much topped out at our current level. We need to grow a real second tier and boost academy numbers, other then that, yeah, the premier leaguification of rugby will be inevitable.

        • I find it worrisome to be in agreement with you but this talk of the AIL going amateur is a huge concern of mine. The idea that the academies will become the only way into provinces for Irish players i.e. you have to be a prospect by 18/19 is really short-sighted

        • Was talking to some of the lads in the office and would only partially agree with this.

          The schools/academy works fine in Leinster due to the huge pool of talent; converselyin Connacht the academy works as the squad (first team and academy) is so small you can get a first team start before the ink is dry on your Leaving Cert results, and you sick or swim pretty rapid.

          However the academy in Munster seems only to weaken the clubs – their traditional power base – by siphoning talent out too early; likewise in Ulster where the talent coming through seems better but they have no top level clubs to play in.

          We’d agree with your central tenet of the dangers of a lack of respect for AIL, but would call it the NFL-ing of rugby rather than the premier-leaguification of it: you play underage, you play college/academy, then you go pro or give up, as there’s no meaningful non-pro level to play: how many Irish internationals/provincial players would have been lost to the game without the AIL?

          • My main issue with the academy system is that certain individuals, and in particular certain positions mature later than others and I think chopping the AIL off at the ankles, or the knees rather, as the ankles went sometime ago, is limiting your options

          • Sound Steve

             /  April 29, 2014

            I don’t think it’ll ever be that clear cut. Firstly, AIL clubs have become a lot more professional in the last number of years in terms of coaching and conditioning which helps to bridge the gap. Look at the Ireland squad this year, you have Jordi Murphy, Marty Moore, Jack McGrath, Tommy O’Donnell, Dave Kilcoyne who have all played AIL in the last two years. I don’t think the gap is ridiculously wide. It doesn’t stop there either. Look at how successful Darragh Fanning has been this year for Leinster on the back of a good season in the AIL.

            Secondly, if the talent is there you have to trust that it will be picked up somewhere. While not all promising players will make academies, you would hope that enterprising young players will be willing to look abroad for opportunities. Obviously, some will fall between the cracks but there are certainly opportunities for talented young players who have the necessary desire.

            The AIL has apparently been on its knees for a number of years but I personally think it fits its purpose quite well.

          • I think it’s adequate and could be improved but it certainly won’t be fit for purpose if the plan to make it amateur goes through which was my point. sure, you used the word professional in the second sentence.

  9. Andrew

     /  April 28, 2014

    Leinster turned up with a uninspiring game plan, that reduced a championship side to kick and chase, Munster made a few too many mistakes that cost them position and pressure. Ulster were unlucky in having to play with fourteen. The Irish teams are well able to compete and win, they just need to be a little more accurate, that’s the standard to win at semi final time, just reach it.

  10. Yossarian

     /  April 28, 2014

    The two most despicable chairman in the final.Both would love to see European rugby follow soccer with no local identity between club and region with just the collection of global players they can assemble. Relieved i hadn’t made arrangements to the game, would hate to seem like i was supporting either side by being present.
    Very similar game to Leinster. Munster performed better than Leinster against them and Toulon were worse than against Leinster but the gulf was still 8 points.
    shades of early 2000’s when Toulouse had a bench of internationals vs a bench against slightly above AIL level. I think we haven’t fallen as low as that and would rate 3 irish provinces at home(injury free) vs anyone in Europe still. The worry is what happens over the next 3 years as the money tempts more Southern Hemisphere players north and squads like Toulon (potentially) become more common.

  11. Ro

     /  April 28, 2014

    Agree with a lot of the comments above. Have tickets for the final but just cant bring myself to bother going to watch either team. If Munster or even Clermont made it I would have travelled but not now. Probably wont bother watching on TV either. It galls me to think that in future the English & French clubs will get more of the euro rugby money even though a team like Saracens can only muster 25k to a HC semi final. There are calls for all sorts of changes to the format because of the low turnout at Twickenham but it is not the first time this has happened. There is a pattern. Why was the Munster game played in a half empty construction site? Could Toulon have filled the place had it been completed? Is this the future of rugby, high spending, loss making teams playing in half full stadia.

    • Hold on a second: Toulon play to a packed 18K stadium every week: their support is on a par with any of the Big 3 Irish provinces. They also have hugely increased their turnover by several multiples during Boudjellal’s reign. There is a proper business plan, and some proper rugby players – don’t think we wouldn’t be wetting ourselves if any of Lobbe, Roussow, Wilkinson, (non-Felon) Armitage etc. rocked up at our favoured province.

      There is no comparison with Saracens, where they can’t fill a 10K stadium, are losing 5 million annually for the last 3 years and have lost over 30 million in the last 7 (that’s real money, not euroshekels, btw), and the chairman has offloaded his stake to a collection of millionaire South African daws Seanie Fitz must wish he’d been introduced to when he was flogging Anglo shares.

    • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

       /  April 28, 2014

      As George might say, hold the horses there a minute lads (& ladies)!! I think we are in danger of extrapolating a little too much of the future of European rugby on the basis of one weekend. Is all this doom & gloom really justified? Leinster messed up at home against the Saints – but were one fumble on the line by Jamie away from victory & a whole different set of possibilities. Payne jumps to challenge for the ball & he stays on the pitch & Ulster win the game and drive on to the final from there. Suddenly the future is rosy and the spirit of Paris lives on. Ireland dominated the HC for six years. The top French clubs out-spent them in each of those years. These things go in cycles. Keep the faith.

    • D6W

       /  April 28, 2014

      Watching the Clermont Vs Sarries game, the instant after the TMO overruled first Clermont try, Sky cut to crowd of disappointed Clermont supporters. Directly in front of them were a bunch of Sarries supporters, who had their backs turned to the pitch and were clearly abusing and jeering the Clermont supporters. Then when they spotted they were on the big screen, they turned to it and gooned like the gibbering idiots they were.

      It is not necessarily the big spending of the French and English clubs that worry me, but it it is the wendyball-like lack of respect for opposition players and fans, and referees, that seem to be brought in to the game by these big spending clubs. For example, the Toulon owner’s remarks about Wayne Barnes in days before the game were Mourinho-like in his attempt to play mind games with the ref.

      • Andy H

         /  April 28, 2014

        Was sickened by those sarnie’s fans on Saturday. Belive their behaviour was particularly obnoxious when connacht played them in the pool game.

  12. hulkinator

     /  April 28, 2014

    The Irish provinces will be a match for the best for years to come. Munster are getting stronger all the time and Ulster and Leinster will get stronger too in a year or so.

    Why am I so confident? Because there is a plethora of young players coming through. The academies are pumping them out like a gatling gun! This is only going to increase the standard of rugby in the coming years.

  13. Kelly Peters

     /  April 28, 2014

    Great work as always lads. I look forward to your thoughts after every big game. Two quick points before getting into the nitty gritty.

    1. As you say it’s easy to point to the kick to the corner but hindsight is 20/20. If they kick it, don’t get another shot and lose then we’d all be saying why didn’t they go to the corner. Fact is their maul was finding success and they need 6 points. They’d only had one kickable chances in the 2nd half (and even that was from 50+) so whose to say they’d have got another. Based on the previous 30 minutes it was unlikely. Personally I’d rather lose saying I’d given it everything rather than going for 3 and lamenting not being more aggressive.
    2. All this TMO talk is winding me up. We spend 90% of the time bemoaning the officials for going to the TMO when from the our angle at home we can see straight away whether it was a score or not. The fact is the camera angles we see are totally different to the way the they see the game. The touch judge couldn’t have been closer unless he’d make the tackle himself. As far as I’m aware once you get into the endzone the ball is live until the ref blows it up so you can have as many attempts as you like till then. He saw Zebo ground the ball and we shouldn’t question that based on what we saw on the TV. Commend to guy for trusting what he saw and not passing the book.

  14. Kelly Peters

     /  April 28, 2014

    Now done to the match. Another fine performance from Munster that ultimately fell just short. I’m not sure my heart can take much more of this. By my count they’ve lost 6 one score Semis or Finals down through the years and another 2 that were one score until the death and most of them away. Of two home semis one of them was against Leinster so should was pretty much an away game (though the Leinster fans did help them out by holding off jumping on the bandwagon till a year or two later). Seems like they use up every ounce of luck in their epic group stage games. Seeing the poor turnout at both Semi’s one has to wonder why Ireland has been so ignored when it comes to the big games. Their is something special about big games at any of the Irish venues for a big game that few other teams in Europe match. Only Toulon and Clermont would come into my reckoning.

    Much of the talk is about brave Munster and passionate Munster and how the team is better than the sum of it’s parts. Thankfully you lads don’t fall into that nonsense. This is a good Munster side filled with good players. James Coughlan must be the most unheralded player in Irish rugby. Ian Keatley has responded to the Hanrahan buzz by really stepping up to another level. Surely he’s the from 10 playing in Ireland and will get a shot at the Argentina tour. Stander had another good game and there now seems like a bit of a logjam in the Munster backrow. The props look set for another year but BJ will need to be replaced. Hooker remains an issue. if only they could combine Varley’s general play with Sherry’s lineout prowess. Second row will be an issue as POC and DOC are coming to the end and Ryan seems incapable of staying fit. The other hole is the centres where some direction is needed as there is real pace and skill out wide. I was disappointed to see Hurley on the bench as he’s not a game changer. I was hoping to GVDH who can’t seem to catch a cold but has serious gas.

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