Anaesthesia in the Aviva

Leinster edged Munster out at the Palindrome at the weekend.  It was a hard-fought, but low-quality affair and rather than both sides looking for the killer blow, in the last 10 minutes it felt as if each was diving to the canvas offering the other the victory. If it were boxing, you’d be asking about suspicious betting patterns.

For all the hype that accompanies these matches, they aren’t always all that great, and you have to go back to 2011 when Ronan O’Gara landed a last-minute touchline penalty to secure a thrilling 24-23 win for the last classic match between the sides.  This content of this one will be quickly forgotten, but the result was important.

Munster really, really needed the win to keep in the hunt for the semi-finals and having come up short, they appear condemned to finishing outside the top four and, worryingly, finishing fourth of the Irish provinces and finding themselves scratching around for European rugby next year.  For Leinster, and for all the handwringing over their performance level, they find themselves at the top of the Pro12.  Top of the world Ma!

Still, don’t let that mask their failings here.  Leinster tried to play a bit, but their exiting from their own half was dreadful, relying on a malfunctioning box-kicking game which tended to give the ball back to Munster no more than 15 metres away from where Leinster had it.  It was feeble stuff.  As for the lineouts; simply awful.  And what of Cian Healy, or at least the imposter who has replaced him; a player who shows little familiarity with the game of rugby?  Whatever about competing with Jack McGrath, soon he will be under pressure from Michael Bent.  Something has gone badly wrong.

Leinster were ultimately saved by the surehanded Jonny Sexton, who gave a streetwise performance and found impressive distance with his line-kicking, and Jamie Heaslip who frequently gave examples of textbook tackling technique.  At this stage in his career, it occurs to me that his durability is a result of his technical excellence, allowing him to take collisions on his terms.  Rhys Ruddock also put up a good show, and won the match-winning penalty with a trademark breakdown turnover.  With Leinster running out of ideas in attack, they were content to live off Munster’s mistakes to eke out the winning scores. And there were plenty of them.

Munster’s leading light was Conor Murray, who, like Sexton, looks like his old self after a post-World Cup slump, and Johnny Holland performed pretty well for a rookie at this level – helped by Murray in a Pienaar/Jackson 2012/13 type of way.  He was certainly better than his replacement Ian Keatley, who appears to have had a total crisis of confidence, leaving his game in a shambolic state. Foley, in a rather mealy-mouthed fashion, talked about him being “experienced” and “an international” in the aftermath, both of which are true, but at this point he looks behind a guy with about 144 minutes of Pro12 experience in the pecking order. He needs a fresh start, be it a new DOR (Mick Bradley – honk!) or a new team.

Time was that in the aftermath of these matches, an online bloodbath would take place between the two sets of fans, nitpicking over refereeing decisions (which were appalling in many cases) and what-ifs, but nowadays each group turns inwards to lament the rubbishness of their performance.  Leinster fans knew they got out of jail in the final 10 minutes, when they were truly totally lacking in composure, while Munster fans continued to grieve over a wretched season.

They must surely have watched through their fingers as David Kilcoyne butchered a three-man overlap to run into the nearest tackler.  If ever one moment encapsulated the failings of a team this was it!  It’s next to or near impossible imagining a Connacht player, let alone an Argentinian or an All-Black, making the same appalling decision.  Being able to fix the defender and pass to the man outside in a two (or four!) on one situation should be a basic minimum for a professional player, regardless of shirt number.  Sad to say it, but the team as a whole does not have anything like the required skill level, and it does not appear that management are interested in fostering a culture where skill is highly valued.  It’s all ‘contact’, ‘passion’ and ‘manning up’.  Pat Lam speaks an entirely different language.

That’s why they’re sixth in the league, with a huge game to come on the dog track in 10 days – huge for next season and huge to arrest a decline that seems never-ending. On one hand, you have a Connacht team shorn of half backs and think this is an opportunity for Munster, but then, every time you think Munster can’t do any worse they go off and shoot themselves in the foot once again. With Munster these days, they are hoping against hope in spite of the coaching ticket. Connacht seem to be like Wales, where Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny can get crocked and the newbies come in to a well-coached and slick setup with very little impact on performance. It’s increasingly difficult to see how Munster conjure up a winning performance – which would leave them with a high-stakes ERC playoff in Musgrave Park against Embra. Surely that can’t be lost too?

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  1. I would say we play better with Marmion and AJ in the team but the decline in quality when they are gone doesn’t seem to be fatal.

    Connacht’s massive problem is the lineout which basically gift wrapped Ulsters second try at the weekend and cost us twice when at the 5m line against Leinster.

    If the wind is anything like it was against Leinster its hard for me too see what Munster’s gameplan would be without Murray’s box kicking. Looking forward to this one though.

  2. curates_egg

     /  April 5, 2016

    I don’t think there was any doubt which was the better side over 80 minutes but the endgame hysterics (caused by Healy first turning over possession and then compounding the mistake) could have led to us losing, and you couldn’t have begrudged it to Munster, who huffed and puffed to keep themselves in it.

    I’m relatively sanguine about Leinster’s season, given all the mitigating factors. The main problem is how anaemic the attack looks, particularly in the opposition 22. We may top the league but we won’t beat Glasgow without scoring tries. Surely, some help is needed here. The squad will be a bit thin at halfback next year, and the back three also looks dodgy (how bad was Kirchner?). You would hope Healy’s precipitous decline is not permanent but Dooley has turned in some very impressive performances this season. He should be in the 23 for the business end.

    I wouldn’t be sanguine if I were a Munster fan. Even if they’d scraped the win, they seem to have serious structural problems that simply hiring a “tracksuited” DOR won’t solve. That said, Rory Scannell looks like a serious player. If we could snaffle him (and or one of the Ulster backs), we could move Henshaw to 15 and have a serious backline at Leinster next season.

    • Stephen

       /  April 5, 2016

      Re snaffling any of the Ulster backs – I mean this civilly, but feck off! 🙂

      • They’re getting fierce uppity in D4 since they “snaffled” Henshaw, alright.

        • The Great Leinster Snaffaluffagus

          • You laugh now. Wait til it’s Conor Murray 😉

            Does that mean we can call Cullen “Big Bird” now, since he’s the only one who can see this great Leinster team?

        • curates_egg

           /  April 5, 2016

          Henshaw is from Leinster ;p He’s coming home.
          Seriously though, enough of the D4 bore. The RDS is in D2, as was last weekend’s game. Leinster is a veritable 12 county army. With Athlone’s Henshaw, I think we’ll have senior players from 10 or 11 of the 12 counties next year. This fan is in Belgium. A guy in front of me at the game was home from Aus. We’re global baby.

          • “The RDS is in D2, as was last weekend’s game.”

            God’s sakes man, think of the children, and more importantly their inheritance, before you put out property-price-unfriendly misinformation like that.

          • BFBB

             /  April 6, 2016

            They’re hardly a 12 county army yet…There were more Kiwis in the Leinster starting team on the weekend than lads from any other country than Dublin. In fact there were more Limerick men in the Leinster team than that too…. With the largest player pool by a long shot, it doesn’t seem to be translating into home-grown representation. Are there perhaps too many lads coming off the conveyor belt to nurture them sufficiently?
            (This is a genuine query not intended as a snipe – it’s just something that baffles me – if you look at the comparative quality of Leinster under-age squads for the last 10 years it doesn’t seem to have taken hold on the senior squad recently)

          • curates_egg

             /  April 7, 2016

            BFBB, I think your maths are off. Of the 56 players we have used this season, I make it 8 Leinster counties and 45 Leinster players (43 if you really want to claim Murphy and Heaslip as foreign born). On Saturday, I make it 4 Leinster counties starting (5 counties in the 23) – admittedly only 16 Leinster produced players or 17 if you count Strauss (who I think it’s fair enough to claim as Leinster produced).

          • BFBB

             /  April 11, 2016

            Maths for the respective squads were as below. Strauss is international / Heaslip is Kildare & Murphy is Dublin / Ruddock is an exile (international). My statement above was possibly a little confusing – I meant there were 3 starting Kiwis and 2 sarting Limerick-men versus one lad from Kildare, Meath & Wexford each…..

            Leinster Squad:
            Leinster – 14 [Dublin(9) Kildare(2) Meath/Wexford/Louth(1each)]
            International – 6
            Munster – 3

            Munster Squad:
            Munster – 18 [ Cork(11) Limerick(4) Tipp(2) Waterford(1) ]
            Leinster – 3
            International – 2

      • curates_egg

         /  April 5, 2016

        You can spare at least one. You’ve got more quality backs than you could shake a stick at.

        • Sure, you can have Cave 🙂

          • Sorry dude, but the RDS and the Aviva are both in Dublin 4, it’s not D2 til the other side of the canal. Don’t go upsetting the residents now 😉

          • curates_egg

             /  April 6, 2016

            Are they? I always thought Ballsbridge was D2?

        • @CompleteBore

           /  April 5, 2016

          Is that true though? Its become a bit of accepted wisdom, but with Scholes and Arnold leaving at the end of this season I count 12 players for the 5 positions (6 if you include the utility back on the bench). And that’s including Stockdale and Nelson (and patiently awaiting somebody telling me Piutau is obviously going to stay at Wasps know…reasons). And dismissing rumours that Olding might be back-up 10 with iHumph’s retirement (although I don’t see who else can do the job and have heard no news of further recruits). And Bowe and Trimble both turn 32 this year with all that brings.

          Am I forgetting somebody? Don’t get me wrong, not complaining about the list, but I don’t see where we can afford to lose cover.

          Wing: Bowe, Trimble, Gilroy, Stockdale
          Centre: Cave, McCloskey, Marshall, Olding, Piutau
          Full Back: Ludik, Payne, Nelson

          • I think Olding is 10 or 15 at this point – rumours of a 10 being signed, but simply too much depth at centre now, particularly since Payne has been playing there for Ulster. Piutau to cover a few positions

          • jacothelad

             /  April 6, 2016

            Ulster have signed Brett Herron from Bath. Probably another I.Q. lame duck to add to the collection. There are a couple of outstanding young 10s in Ulster but neither played for a ‘rugby’ school or came from the orifice of an English club so obviously aren’t worth a look in.

          • Such as?

  3. connachtexile

     /  April 5, 2016

    At last a commentator that has finally had the nerve to say that Healy has gone to pot. He shouldn’t be let near the Ireland squad for South Africa let alone the matchday 23.

    As for the game I couldn’t believe how lateral and predictable the Leinster attack was, it made it incredibly easy for the Munster defense to read. I think they did one wrap around with Sexton and created a break that made them serious yardage and they never tried to repeat it. I don’t know who is to blame for it but if they have ambitions at Europe next season they will have to sort it out.

    • leinsterlion

       /  April 5, 2016

      He’s been gone for a long while, IRFU contract though, they’ll keep picking him.

      • connachtexile

         /  April 5, 2016

        Yeah fair play to the agent for getting him a 3 year contract. He could become the most expensive bench warmer we ever had.

        • From an IRFU revenue standpoint, this isn’t the first time they have paid up for a player who (potentially in Healy’s case) has simply had too many injuries. Didn’t Leamy get a central contract, and retire a couple of weeks later?

          • D6W

             /  April 6, 2016

            To be fair to IRFU, given Healey’s age profile and the fact he looked pretty good his first few outings back from injury, it was not surprising he was offered new contract. And it is too early to right him off just now. Is it churlish of me to point out that you yourself named him as one of the 3 key players who had to travel to WC 2011 if deemd fit, regardless if how many games hed had under his belt?

  4. cambridgefergal

     /  April 5, 2016

    “With Munster these days, they are hoping against hope in spite of the coaching ticket.”

    Indeed. Foley makes MOC look competent. Cromwell’s quote to the Long Parliament leaps to mind here. He nailed his colours to the Keatley mast, and he’s going to have to go down with his ship, now. Rob Penney’s reputation grows, in hindsight, by the day.

  5. Roundy

     /  April 5, 2016

    Frustrating game to watch. Dunno what Leinster were thinkin when they decided to run a penalty from the own 22 in the last seven minutes. Also The lineout is so bad now it is embarrassing. Agree we need to get an effective attacking game if we are to win this league. I feel sorry for Keatley, his confidence is on the floor and it does not look like things will change for him where he is. A move away would be best for his career. He is a decent enough outhalf ( at least he was) and having watched our cover in the outhalf position (Marsh very disappointing) I wonder would a move back to Leinster suit him. Maybe even to Connacht, Lam is the type of coach than can build players confidence and Connacht are struggling in the outhalf berth.

  6. ruckinhell

     /  April 5, 2016

    This may seem very defeatist but a small part of me is actually hoping that Munster hit the skids (or to be accurate hit them even harder) and we don’t finish in the Champions Cup positions. There are far too many cheerleaders in the media who are happy to gloss over the legion failings within the current Munster team and setup and keep musing that “4% more passion” will get them over the line. If we were to win a play off this would be twisted into some parable about Munster having “knockout rugby in their DNA” and the league “being a poor barometer” for the actual quality in the team and business as usual is grand and another round of jobs for the boys. Perhaps hitting the rock bottom of an away trip to Siberia next year will finally pull the wool from the eyes of the Branch and they’ll finally accept that a massive root and branch reform is needed, not a sticking plaster DoR role to “fix” the issues.

    The League doesn’t lie, this is a very mediocre Munster side that is actually punching below its weight. If you compare the team now to when Axel took over there has been a considerable regression in all elements of our play, even in the supposed traditional Munster values that Axel was supposed to embody. That said, his shitshow of a head coaching performance aside, I think that Axel has shown enough in his past coaching jobs with Munster and Ireland that he has something to offer but I don’t see enough Emotional Intelligence or nous for a top dog role. He’ll have to suck up his pride and accept a demotion, however the Branch want to sugar coat it. Being offered a contract extension in the midst of a 6 game losing streak was the kind of Baldrick-like cunning we’ve come to expect from Garret Fitz but what it actually does is sets Foley up to be almost unemployable at the end of his tenure. This would be a real pity and a loss to Irish rugby which has few enough indigenous talent and Foley is still relatively young in his coaching career.

    The fear for me is that if Leinster, with an excellent structure and playing pool, struggled to replace MOC than what sort of miscreant we’ll need to accept for Munster given our omni-shambles of a set up?

    • You know – I’ve heard elements of that from other Munster fans. That such a degree of reform is needed that you actually *want* a situation where the structure is untenable

      • They’re hoping to rediscover the “pashun” in Siberia. And sure when I think back to those delightful photos of the Connacht players huddling together in the dugout under their blankies, there might be something to it……

        • I hear those mean-spirited bastards (well, it might be just the one put-upon lonely-in-Neuchatel bastard updating the website according to Nigel Wray’s latest voicemail dictat) in the EPCR are going to deny Munster even their trip on the Siberian Express: Krasnoyarsk will be forced to play all future games in Sochi is the latest word. It’s a conspiracy I tell you.

      • ruckinhell

         /  April 6, 2016

        Sadly such a situation is needed in my view, Munster have been poorly served by the former pros in the media who will explain away any result. The Quinnie comments after the loss to Stade were notable not for their extremity (which to be honest they were not) but by the sheer fact that he had broken rank and spoke the truth about the appallingly poor performance. Interestingly this hasn’t been repeated.

        • D6W

           /  April 6, 2016

          Quinnie hit the nail on the head. I thought it was amusing but sad that the next week sky managed to get Foley and Quinnie together pitchside before munster game and Quinnie folded and desperately tried to row back from his comments, while Axel wouldn’t even look at him.

    • D6W

       /  April 6, 2016

      I have to wonder about Garret Fitz after seeing him on ATH recently. He was trying to show how far the Munster academy had come in recent years by proudly saying the great team of old had most of their players come through the clubs and AIL, but now almost all the current players had come through the munster academy. Can he not see, given the difference in success between the aforementioned teams, that this is actually a negative???

  7. andrew097

     /  April 5, 2016

    The whole box kick out of defence is a crock. Even Murray who did it well and done well it still is a crock. You might or might not get possesion 15 meters up the field and if you don’t the pressure is back on you and you are scrambling tocover miss matches A number of Leinsters exits amounted to Munster points. It is so hard to get the ball it’s a crime just to give it away in a hail Mary kick.

    • leinsterlion

       /  April 5, 2016

      Asking Redden to repeatedly box kick, when he has always been iffy at it, dumbfounds me. He’s 35, he’s not suddenly going to turn into 2011 Fourie Du Preez, awful coaching on Lesinters part.

  8. Topsy Turvy

     /  April 5, 2016

    The standard of rugby was bloody awful and that kicks into the National setup massively. I sometimes watch the highlights of the Boshiership which is actually anything but. Their games are way more entertaining, with far more offloading and line-breaks. And guess what…their national team has begun to have a bit more about it too. So we now have the 2 bluntest teams going and the bluntest national team too. No more excuses about hangovers, new coaching tickets, era ending, weather or whatever other waffle. It rains more in Galway than it does anywhere else on Earth (at least it feels that way anytime I head west). Time to move away from set piece plays and get the players thinking with the ball in hand again.

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