Free Pass

In the aftermath of Connacht’s win at Thomond Park, Murray Kinsella did a fantastic piece of analysis on Connacht’s skillset – and one worth reading if you haven’t done so yet. It has been a consistent feature of Connacht’s play this season – good on-pitch awareness and skillful play executed well. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the other provinces, who continue to stink the place out.

The most pungent right now is Munster, who followed up the defeat to Connacht with a lamentable defeat away to the Dragons. Without a doubt, missing their best two players (POM and Conor Murray) is a big blow for Munster, but the on-pitch ineptitude was pretty shocking – bar a questionable (at best) TMO decision, they never looked like beating either Connacht at home or the Dragons away. And, with all due respect to our Western Brethren and Stephen Jones’ local Pro12 muckers, that’s quite a come down for Munster.

So, you’d think everyone would be up in arms about it, asking tough questions about where they are going? What the gameplan is? Whether such an abundance of turnovers and gormless attacking is worthy of criticism? Not a bit of it – on Second Captains yesterday and in the IT today, Gerry was at pains to pin Munster’s issues on a host of extraneous factors:

  • “The Dragons have a decent home record and Rodney Parade isn’t an easy place to go” – cut me some slack, provinces would view this as a chance for 5 points in recent years
  • “Munster suffering more than anyone from fans’ post-RWC hangover” – not sure of the science behind this, but in 2007 and 2011, Munster seemed rejuvenated by having their Irish players back
  • “We know how hard Limerick has been hit during the recession” – not downplaying the impact of a savage recession, but it’s been pretty much nationwide, and the economy has been improving for three years now
  • “The 7.45 kick-off on a Saturday night in December isn’t helpful.” – really? A few years ago, Gerry was complaining that Munster didn’t get enough Saturday night kickoffs due to “English arrogance”

When we talk with Munster fans, we hear a very different suite of concerns, and we can’t help but feel a concerted effort is being made to avoid asking tough questions of our native coaches. When Rob Penney was Munster coach, Wednesday Night Rugby on Off The Ball with the now-SC team was at times a long diatribe against Penney’s selection/tactics from Thornley and Wood, yet there was nary a mention of any questions for the coach to answer when McDevitt had Gerry on yesterday. Equally, when Matt O’Connor was Leinster coach, he was the lightning rod (correctly, certainly by his second season) for criticism. Now, it’s just a collection of things that Foley can do nothing about – although there is a pretty coherent argument that dropping attendances are directly related to the faire on offer, which is not being explored.

Thing is – no-one wants to just beat up on people just for the sake of it, particularly when they have the status the likes of Axel and Leo Cullen have, but if we want our native coaches to develop, we surely need to hold them to account honestly. And in a world where Pat Lam has the likes of Denis Buckley and Ally Muldowney playing like All Blacks (sorry for using the term, but we feel it is appropriate here), Foley really should be doing better with the players he has, many of whom Lam would kill for. Time for some honest discussion.