Right. All out to Thomond Park tomorrow for the Munster – Castres game. A win there would secure qualification for the play-offs but needless to say, we won’t be so presumptuous, even though the visitors seem to have brought over a second-string team. As always, the domestic league comes first with French clubs and who could blame them? Money talks.
Having said that, these guys are no pushover, and Munster will need to be sharp to nail this game. As always, of course, the trick will be to try and close out the game early in the hope that they’ll decide to pack it in, but they might not. They might decide to dog it out and make life uncomfortable right up to the final whistle. Time will tell.
If they choose to dig in, the late Colm Tucker would approve. I imagine there will be some sort of gesture for him before the game, a minute’s silence, perhaps, or even a minute’s applause as the new custom dictates. Colm was one of the outstanding figures in Munster rugby and he will be sadly missed by his comrades as well as his family and friends.
The Munster players will all be aware of symbolism, and keen to give Colm an appropriate send-off but one way or another, I’m looking forward to a good day out. Bullet and myself will probably drop into some city-centre hostelry for a pint or two before strolling out to the stadium. With any luck, we might enjoy a Munster win, although that’s by no means a foregone conclusion, and after that, who knows what the evening might bring? We have all sorts of possibilities open to us, with a range of musical friends gigging in venues right across town.
Munster 26 — Castres 10
Close, but no cigar. Although today’s win guaranteed Munster’s appearance in the knock-out stages, the squad will have nobody but themselves to blame for failing to secure a home draw in the quarter finals. Although they defeated Castres, it was a perfunctory affair, with many lost opportunities, and crucially, no bonus point. Now, in order to get a Thomond Park quarter final, they have to go to Northampton and try to sneak a win against a team with a strong desire for revenge. A Northampton team seeking the consolation prize of a place in the Amlin Cup if they should beat Munster.
The crowd weren’t happy. The knew that Munster were capable of far better than this, and indeed there were flashes of the real Munster right through the game , but it was destined to be patchy. James Coughlan sent out that signal in the first five minutes when, after a beautifully-executed passage released him with the ball, he developed tunnel vision and failed to offload to Hurley for a certain try.
That became the template for the day, with chance after chance squandered following finely-worked sequences as Munster wasted one opportunity after another. They should have had the bonus point in the bag at half time but they didn’t. No doubt they’re already going over the videos, but what they conclude from watching them is anyone’s guess. It would be easy to say that there was a failure of leadership. It would be just as easy to blame management, but what it comes down to is a general looseness throughout the squad and perhaps the managerial structure, a laxity that has manifested itself throughout the season.
Let’s be honest. Munster are very lucky to be here, having been saved at the last minute in two consecutive games by drop goals. And with the greatest respect to O Gara’s nerves and kicking skills, a top-flight team should not be relying on that sort of thing to win a match, exciting though it was for all of us to watch.
On the positive side, Conor Murray continues to be a revelation. He had a wonderful all-round game, and his contribution was highlighted all the more when Tomás O Leary came on to replace him after 70 minutes with a ponderous Gaelic-football performance that reminded everyone why Peter Stringer held his place for so long.
Donnacha Ryan continues to play innovative, incisive football and Paul O Connell, as always, is a rock, although his captaincy didn’t set the world alight today, when so many opportunities were kicked away.
All in all, a mixed bag. I suppose we should be glad to have qualified, considering how patchy the performances were in the pool stages, but at the same time, it’s frustrating to know that the quality is there to achieve much more. Right now, I don’t think I could compare Munster with Leinster, or even with Ulster after last night’s clinical demolition of Leicester, and yet, on any given day, nobody would say for certain who might win.
I suppose that’s what was always so enjoyable about Munster — pulling it out of the fire at the last minute. If they did it any other way, maybe we wouldn’t have so much fun following their adventures.