Not an entirely disappointing start to the 2010 Heineken Cup campaign, but still a game that could and should have been won. Munster came away with a bonus point thanks to a sweet little grubber from O Gara that stood up nicely for Munster inside centre Sam Tuitupou to score a last-minute try, but it was partly thanks to the No 12 that they needed such a last-minute reprieve. Tuitupou, like Lifeimi Mafi last week, in a stupid tackle on Gordon Darcy , cost Munster 3 points and got himself binned for a disgraceful spear-tackle. He now faces a suspension, joining Mafi in the stand for the next seven or eight weeks if he’s lucky.
London Irish never looked more than ordinary, although Lamb’s kicking was mostly spot-on and Bob Casey was magnificent, but Munster are currently fielding a weakened squad. Tomás O Leary is out with a broken thumb, Jerry Flannery is still not match fit, and therefore watched the game in the same pub as I did. Nobody knows when Paul O Connell will return. Ian Dowling has an injured hip and Keith Earls is not yet up to full speed.
Despite that, Earls never looked less than dangerous and Stringer stepped into the gap for O Leary with characteristic confidence. There is no end to this man, and despite what his critics say, I have the greatest admiration for him.
There’s little to say about London Irish’s intercept try from Topsy Ojo. It happens, and it never indicates how a game was evolving, but coming in the first minute of the restart, it certainly punched Munster in the kidneys.
Mushie Buckley, on the other hand, was in my opinion on top of his game and put in his best ever performance in a Munster shirt. It was a pity that he didn’t manage to carry the ball over the line with 20 minutes to go, which is a surprise for a man of his weight and strength. Armitage deserves full credit for holding him up but the truth is that a man of Buckley’s size should have driven his opponent and the ball over the line with no trouble at all. More coaching needed. If that try had gone in, Munster were in a position to win the game.
Quinlan’s omission from the bench was a strange decision, and Paul Wallace came on too late, though when he did, his strength, speed and athleticism made a huge difference.
There’s something not entirely right in the Munster management set-up at the moment. We hear stories of Quinlan storming out and of dissent among the players. Rumours are circulating that McGahan might have resigned, or might be about to quit. Nobody knows.
Looking at yesterday’s game, I’m bound to say that I can’t imagine Munster losing if Paul O Connell had been at the helm, if Qunlan and Wallace had been on from the start or if the three-quarters line was operating at full throttle. Any one of the above would have taken it for us, in my opinion.
Still, not to worry. London Irish wanted to send the visitors home empty-handed, and they failed. It could yet turn out to be a most valuable bonus point.