Categories
Rugby

Munster Rugby — a time for hard decisions

Munster rugby

What can you say about Munster’s  crushing defeat to a fourteen-man Stade Francais?

There’s no end to the superlatives: abysmal, humiliating, disgraceful, appalling.

My personal choice is shite.

Munster were shite.

They couldn’t even beat a team that was missing a player for the entire second half. In fact it was hard to know which side was down to fourteen players. They failed for the second year in a row to make the play-off stages of the European Cup, and whatever we might think the reasons are for that, there’s no doubt where the buck stops.

The fact is that Anthony Foley and his management team have failed to deliver what they were hired to deliver and you might say that’s because they don’t have the resources, or you might say it’s because they don’t have the players, but that would only be making excuses. The fact is that they have failed, whatever the reasons, and pretending otherwise will do Munster rugby no good.

But don’t listen to me. Listen to Alan Quinlan.

 

And while you’re at it, see what CJ Stander had to say after the game.

 

We rightly place a high value on loyalty here, as well as doggedness, determination and a little bitterness to keep an edge on things, but loyalty is one thing, while blind, unquestioning allegiance is quite another. Such uncritical belief  does us no good as we risk slipping into obscurity, long removed from the glory days of not so long ago.

We can’t do this.

Let’s have the debate and let’s have the discussion.

Was Foley the right choice to take over from Rob Penney?

Did Foley choose the right people for his management team?

Do some people have a divine right to manage Munster simply because they were once great servants of rugby?

How did the plan go so disastrously wrong? And let’s be straight about it — failing twice in two years to reach the knock-out stages is a disaster.

Speaking personally, my only question is this: since Foley and his management team have twice demonstrated their inability to deliver a result, should they have the opportunity to fail disastrously for a third time?

Isn’t it time to make our cows a little less sacred?

 

Categories
Rugby Wine

Munster 15 – Saracens 9

It isn’t often you see a referee booed off the field by the winning supporters, but that’s what happened last night at Thomond Park, and while I’m personally not a big fan of booing, I could see why the crowd were so angry.  Pascal Gauzere took what should have been an absorbing battle between two equally-matched sides and turned it into a lottery, blowing his whistle every thirty seconds, awarding penalties to both sides for no reason, failing to spot obvious infringements and generally behaving like a scoutmaster refereeing an under-nines egg-and-spoon race.

 

Shocking.  Not as bad as Roman Poite on his best day, but still shocking.

It might be a little simplistic to say this, but last night in Thomond Park, it seemed victory went to the side that converted more of their unfair penalties than the others did.

Without this referee, it would have been a magnificent battle between two determined sides, neither prepared to give an inch, and even despite Gauzere’s officiousness, it still managed to be an absorbing spectacle from start to end as Munster dogged out a victory and Saracens grabbed their late losing bonus point which was no more than they deserved, given their tenacity and determination.

We all know Charlie Hodgson’s history in Thomond Park of being psyched out by the crowd, but maybe it would have been better if Sarries had put him on kicking duty rather than the unfortunate Owen Farrell, who missed four of his seven attempts at goal.  As it turned out, Charlie left the field early yet again — has he ever completed a full game in Munster? — and Farrell barely managed to put a gloss on his disastrous kicking by claiming a late three points to secure the bonus.

By contrast, O Gara was impeccable in his place kicking, but not so much in open play or even when line-kicking, as he sliced ball after ball or dropped penalty line-kicks far short of where they should have ended up.  But that’s not to fault his commitment: as always, ROG gave it everything, including a nice little kick-ahead that might have ended in a try if his legs were only five years younger.

We went to Thomond Park wrapped up in our winter woollies due to the dire warnings of supercooled air and lungs frozen solid.  You’ll catch pneumonia, as the old people used to say.

My winter woollies consisted of an embarrassing heavy jumper I bought a few years ago with snowflakes on it and a very nice inner lining that’s both windproof and waterproof.  You can go out in a frozen downpour wearing this winter woolly and you’ll come home as dry as a bone and toasty warm, but you’ll be fifty pounds heavier from all the water it’s soaked in.  Obviously, I wasn’t going to wear it in town later.  My friends have enough things to sneer about, but luckily young Bullet was driving, so I was able to throw it in the back seat of his motor.

Bullet himself, being a member of the young classes, feels no cold and therefore his winter warming gear consisted of a skintight Munster jersey over a t-shirt.  Right.  And since he was driving, he couldn’t even take advantage of my warming hip-flask of brandy — an essential item of equipment at all winter matches, and a thing that tends to draw people together as they share the essentials of life.

But as it turned out, there was no chill in the air when we snuggled into our cosy little perch high on the West stand.  No chill, no rain, no wind and no obstruction of our view.  And truthfully, we can’t complain.  We won, even if that losing bonus point might well come back to haunt us.

How bad?

Look, as you know, I’ve been going to matches with Bullet since the days when he used to sit on my shoulders.  These days, he’d find it easier to carry me, which is as things should be.    It would have been nice to go out on the town together after the game, but as it happened, he had to travel on somewhere else, so I headed for the metropolis myself, and soon began to think that maybe it wasn’t such a great idea.  Maybe it’s a Christmas thing or maybe it’s a rugby thing, I don’t know, but all the pubs were uncomfortably full of loud people.  Maybe it’s just old age and advanced grumpiness, but I was in no mood for heaving sweaty crowds, so I headed for  Dr John’s Emporium of Coolness where I found a truly Joycean scene.  Over and above the eponymous Dr John, I spotted two more Johns at the bar and they had what seemed suspiciously like a bottle of port on the counter between them.

Is that a bottle of vintage port? I demanded.

‘Tis indeed, said John I.  I bought it by accident and it cost me twice as much as I thought it would.

How could you buy a bottle of port by accident?

Just believe me, ok?  Would you like a little snifter?

I certainly would.  Landlord, would you be so kind as to give me a port glass?

Certainly Sir.

And with that, my friend John I poured an effulgence of richly-aromatic soul-warming port wine for me.  It was a delight, exploding on the tongue and rejuvenating the innards.

My God, I said.  How could you have purchased such a wonderful vintage port by accident?

I just did.  Enjoy.

John II leaned forward and made that spider-coming-at-you gesture.  It’s … it’s …it’s …

Yes?

It’s …

It’s what?

I’m fuckin langers.

Wait! said John I.  I have a plan, and with that he disappeared momentarily, but when he came back it was with a sly and crafty grin.  What do you think of this? he demanded, brandishing a fine wedge of Stilton.

Now, there are pubs and then there are pubs.  It’s no secret that I’m an admirer of the Blind Pig, and Dr Johns, for the very obvious reason that  they’re run by civilised people who know how to please their customers, even if we weren’t exactly customers, given the circumstances, but what goes around comes around.

In a blink, the landlord produced a cheeseboard, a suitable knife and a pack of delicious crispy crackers.

And that’s how I ended up with John I and John II, drinking fine port and eating mature Stilton cheese while enjoying smooth sounds in the ultra-cool environs of Dr John’s after a rugby match, instead of enduring heaving sweaty drunks in a lesser establishment.

Where would you get it?

Maybe it would have been better if the unfortunate M. Gauzere had dropped into Dr Johns to enjoy the ambience, and left the refereeing to someone who knew what he was doing.  We’d all have enjoyed the experience more.

 

 

Categories
Rugby

Munster 33 – Edinburgh 0

We needed a lift.  Let’s be honest about it, with all the misery going round, we desperately needed some kind of respite.  As if losing last week to Racing Metro wasn’t bad enough, we’re now reeling under the Merkelbot’s dismissive crushing of Enda’s hopes with the sort of Thatcherian  Raus! Raus! Raus!  the Iron Lady might have been proud of.  Everything is heading south: our income, our house values, our spirits and our children, so a little bit of a lift was in order.  After all, how could we face the rest of this year, including the looming Bludget, without some hope of qualifying for the European Cup?

Rob Penney

There are those who say that Rob Penney’s open, expansive style of rugby doesn’t suit Munster, and it’s easy to see why.  Even though Edinburgh were clearly inferior in every aspect of the game, they managed to hold the score to only 6-0 going in at half time, and that was despite losing in the lineout, losing in the scrum and losing in the ruck, not to mention constantly losing possession through silly, unforced errors.  And yet, in a style of play where shirt-numbers mean nothing, where everyone takes on every role and where second-rows double as wingers, the statistics were clear: in the first half, Munster enjoyed 70% of the possession and spent most of the time inside the Edinburgh 22.  Somehow, though, they couldn’t turn the advantage into points on the board.

Things picked up in the second half, with Conor Murray going over for a try, and partially making up for the disaster of a game he had last week against Racing.  With Keatley’s conversion and another penalty, the score hit  16-0 and Edinburgh were going nowhere, but that was when Munster went back to basics.  Somehow, with only ten minutes left on the clock, they got it into their heads that maybe they could score three more tries to secure a bonus point.

It’s a big ask, I informed my companions.  Three tries in ten minutes? Hmm.

That’s exactly what happened, thanks largely to sheer aggression and muscle from the forwards, with Dougall, O’Mahony and Varley grabbing a try each as my companions laughed at me.

I don’t mind being laughed at when things go that well, but there’s work to be done, as Penney himself acknowledges.  I think we can take a lot of hope out of this game.  Today’s performance was at least encouraging, and while it wasn’t strong enough to frighten Saracens, the new wide game seems to suit the likes of Zebo, Howlett and Laulala very well indeed, while the old Munster qualities of doggedness in the pack remain alive and well.

It could turn out to be a winning combination if Penney can manage to tidy up the looseness on the ball, cut down the handling errors and perhaps consider replacing one or two players who served Munster well over the years but who might be ready to move on and make way for new blood.

There’s probably a good amount of mental adjustment required as the players come to terms with the new head coach’s systems, but the signs are promising with so many really young guys in the squad.  Zebo, O Mahony, Kilcoyne, Dougall and Murray are all 23 or under.  Keatley and Earls are only 25 while the old men of the squad, like Paul O Connell and Dougie Howlett are still world-class players.

33-0.

I feel encouraged by this result, although I know that people will be wondering if Penney is going in the right direction or if he should be trying to rebuild the old Munster.

Who knows?

 

Categories
Rugby

Munster vs Ulster in Heineken Cup Quarter Final

Right.  We’re off to Thomond Park for the Munster-Ulster game.

 

 

Not much to say right now.  Tension is building and of course, the supporters have been packing the pubs since 10:30 this morning in their boundless dedication to the Munster cause.  They know that early kick-offs are a curse.  They know the atmosphere is never the same when the crowd is totally sober and that’s why they give their all by pouring as many pints down their neck as they can before the match.

I won’t be doing that, although I might have a little libation after the game, depending on how it turns out.  Ulster are a formidable outfit these days and although I think Munster have what it takes to beat them, there are no guarantees.  They won’t care a jot about all this talk of Fortress Thomond, so for now, I’ll just hold my peace.  It’s time to get on the move.

Back later with some reactions for good or ill.

__________________________

Oh God.  What can I possibly say about that without making you want to poke your eyeballs out?  I took no pictures of the game because it was too depressing.  Bah!

Munster lost 16-22 at Thomond Park to a team that outplayed them.  There’s no getting away from it, and instead of concentrating on Roman Poite’s abysmal refereeing which, after all, is pretty much a given, we need to look closer to home.

Why did the forwards hang back so much?

Why was Conor Murray’s delivery so slow?

Why was Keith Earls allowed to remain on the field when he was clearly too injured to play?

All of these things look like management issues.  I can’t help feeling that McGahan got the game plan wrong, that he was afraid of Ulster’s big, fast second row and that he set up the entire strategy to counter any threat they might pose, but if that was his plan, it didn’t work.

Half an hour into this game we were 19 points down, and against a team of Ulster’s quality, it was never likely we’d bridge the gap, but Munster slugged it out, scoring a converted try and a penalty to bring the sides within nine points of each other at the break.  Shouting distance.

Why they couldn’t press on and narrow  it further I don’t know, but I can tell you there was no sign of the big men coming up in support at the breakdown.  That has to be coming from management and Conor Murray’s uncharacteristic slowness must have been due to orders from above.  After all, he was replaced by Tomás O Leary, a scrum-half whose clock runs on geological time.

Good luck to Ulster.  I wish them well.

As someone said after the match, I’d rather be beaten by them than by Leinster, but I still didn’t want to be walking out of Thomond Park past these lads.

Categories
Lifestyle

Easter Weekend

What a fun weekend it’s been so far, celebrating the resurrection myth.  Yesterday, we all went up Lough Derg on boats, with buckets of ice-cold beer, cases of wine and mountains of grub  for the barbecue — all in honour of the Good Friday tradition.  People brought guitars, bongos, harmonicas and anything else they could play.  Others, such as myself, with the musical talent of a bag of assorted mouse-droppings, contributed to the fun by trying not to sing, although I have to say, half a slab of beer tends to loosen the old vocal chords.  This is not a good thing, but I’m happy to tell you I behaved myself and just mumbled the words under my breath.  It’s amazing how educational those severe beatings were in previous years.

A day on the water has a way on concentrating the thoughts, easing away the mundane worries of our existence, and getting the troubled individual soundly pissed in a congenial and relaxed way, among friends and new acquaintances soon to become friends.  I must say, I’m thoroughly pleased to have made this little voyage with the kind people who not only ferried me to a secret lakeside destination, but also filled me up with tender, medium-rare grilled steaks and all the trimmings.  I will return the compliment before this summer is out.

Of course, on these trips, all sorts of ideas pop into your head, don’t they?

I had a genius idea, but everyone laughed at it, and I can’t figure out why.  You see, the mayor of Limerick, Jim Long, was interviewed by Hot Press this week, during which he explained his philosophy on legalising drugs.

I would be against legalising drugs because you have that minimum one.  What’s it called?  The one they smoke?

Cannabis?

Yeah.  We turned a blind eye to that and that led to ecstasy and other drugs.

Bang on the target, I thought.  Let’s teach the young people how awful drugs are and make money at the same time.  My plan is simple.  Hire Crystal Swing to play someplace like the Big Top and as part of the ticket price, give everyone half an acid tab.  Then force them to look at the mad staring Scientology grin of the mother and after ten minutes, they’re cured for life.

No more drugs for me, they’ll mutter, ruefully as they ponder the difficulty of scratching your back while wearing a straitjacket.  Last time I did drugs, I saw a crazy woman made out of old handbags.  Never again.  From now on, I’ll stick to a safe drug like alcohol, same as Mayor Long.

Funnily enough, nobody could see the sense in my idea.  Maybe if I modified it to Daniel O’Donnell with the acid, they might like it better.

Meanwhile, the forces of Irish insanity succeeded in closing down the Great Friday festival by invoking a thoroughly bizarre law: the Public Dance Halls Act 1935, a truly anachronistic piece of legislation making it an offence to dance in public without a licence (as amended by the Licensing (Combating Drug Abuse) Act, 1997).

It’s a crime to have public dancing in an unlicensed place. You think I jest?  Read it for yourself.

The Public Dancehalls Act, 1935 states as follows:

10.—(1) No place, whether licensed or not licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor, shall be used for public dancing unless a public dancing licence granted under this Act is in force in respect of such place.

This provision was amended by the Licensing (Combating Drug Abuse) Act, 1997 to make the organiser liable as well as the owner, and also to update the financial penalties.

“place” means a building (including part of a building), yard, garden, or other enclosed place, whether roofed or not roofed and whether the enclosure and the roofing (if any) are permanent or temporary;

“public dancing” means dancing which is open to the public and in which persons present are entitled to participate actively.

So here comes the existential question.  Do they dance or do they not dance?  It’s pure Father Ted, although more bizarre than anything Linehan and Mathews ever imagined.  If you intend to hold a concert with bands, as the Great Friday programme envisaged, with a great line-up including Protobaby, BPLO and Acoustra, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that you’ll attract music lovers, who might, or might not dance, much like any other public event.  Does Thomond Park need a dance licence to account for the celebrations after a Munster win? What about the African Pentecostal churches  that have sprung up everywhere?  If I decide to stroll through the Park, an enclosed space, and give a little hop, skip and jump, do I commit an offence?

This is pure Mayor Long comedy territory, though I suspect that the word Dancing is a euphemism for other things.  Things the establishment fears, hates and knows nothing whatever about.  Back in 1935, it probably stood for Impure Thoughts, and eighty years later, I think it probably means Unspecified Shenanigans.  The official mind hates unspecified shenanigans almost as much as it hates jiggery-pokery, but most of all, it hates unlicensed fun, which is why a nation of grown adults must vacate drinking establishments at a defined hour as laid down by law, instead of making their own minds up.

What a great little country, and what a profoundly mad survey recently, revealing that the Irish are among the happiest people in the world.  Are they really?  I expect that will have a lot to do with being permanently half-drunk these days and who could blame them?

Of course, in the middle of all this madness, there comes a gem, as Ratzinger, in yet another Father Ted moment, announces his decision not to attend the Eucharistic Congress.  Some people say he’s just throwing Enda Kenny filthies for saying rude things about him, but the downside is pretty grim.   Printers  face an uncertain future as orders are cancelled for Down with this sort of thing and Careful Now placards.  Protesters in Knock, Armagh, Dublin and Cashel are left wondering how to pass the time as the Pope snubs Ireland in favour of Castelgandalfo in the balmy Italian early summer.

This is good. In 1979, the Polish Pope came to Ireland, before gigantic adoring crowds of a million people, unlike the projected maximum of 80 thousand expected at Knock, but after that visit, how many 33-year-olds do you know called John Paul?

Do we really need forty thousand babies called Ratzo?  Yer mudder and meself got a bit carried away after the Eucharistic Exposition, as ya do, like.  Behind the High Altar, like.  Jaysiz.

I think not.

It’s mad.  It’s mad.  It’s all mad, but I don’t care, because I have my ticket for the Munster-Ulster game tomorrow, I’m going out to Thomond Park and I hope to see us progress to the semi-final of the Heineken Cup, though I can’t say with any conviction that we will.  Based on recent form, Munster might not beat a scratch team of fifteen retired housewives captained by my Auntie Bridie, but time will tell.  At least Paul O Connell is back, sorely missed last week. and Wallace is on the bench, surprisingly displaced by Tommy O Donnell, while Donnacha Ryan is back to match him on the other side.

Mafi and Earls at centre have never worked properly together and I’d worry about their partnership.  Mafi has a tendency to be indisciplined, to do irrational things on the spur of the moment, and to get binned for stupid infringements, while Earls has yet to develop the leadership skills required.  I’d also be worried about the scrum, but if Munster can neutralise Ferris (whose ankle injury remains a big question), it might be possible to frustrate Ulster penetration.  This is a big call for O Donnell.  Nobody will take pleasure from the news that Tommy Bowe must have an operation for removal of a haematoma, but at the same time, he would have been a huge threat to Munster as a big attacking back and it must be a relief that he isn’t in the squad.  [Update: a spectacularly stupid observation, even by my standards.  Thanks to all the commenters pointing out that Bowe has no yet been released by Ospreys.]

After last week’s performance against Leinster, I’d be slow to put any money on Munster, though of course I’ll be out there with the rest of them screaming my head off.

Tomorrow, I’ll come back with some sort of match report and maybe a few pictures.

Or maybe not, depending on my mood.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Rugby

Munster Seeking Replacement for Tony McGahan as Head Coach

I’ve had an idea.  I think I know the perfect replacement for Tony McGahan, who’s expected to leave Munster at the end of the year and take up a new job as Wallabies backs coach, but we’ll come to that in a minute.

I’ve never been a huge fan of McGahan, even though some people might say this season has vindicated his choice as manager.  After all, didn’t Munster make it to the quarter finals of the European Cup with a home draw for the quarter finals?  Yes, they did, thanks to two highly improbable last-second drop goals.  The Munster engine is not firing smoothly on all cylinders, as the senior players openly concede, so McGahan’s good fortune may also turn out to be a stroke of luck for the team.  This might be the opportunity to restructure the management and tackle any fundamental problems at their root, but who’s the right man to take on that job?

Names are flying about like bats in a tumble-dryer.  Conor O Shea was mentioned, but he already has a good job at Harlequins.  Besides, there are those at London Irish who say he was a bit of a spoofer when he took over there.  He talks the talk, but can he walk the walk?  Or the plank, in the case of Munster, if it goes wrong.

Nick Mallett is currently out of work after the Italians dropped him, and he might be a good possibility although his name is being whispered in connection with the England job.

Then there’s Anthony Foley, the current forwards coach and stalwart Munster player for a dozen years, but I think he’d be an outsider.  Although he has all the coaching qualifications, he might be seen as lacking depth.  Maybe after a couple of years in France and maybe a stint in New Zealand, he might be the finished article but it’s probably a bit early to appoint him at this level.  On the other hand, maybe not. He certainly has the playing experience and the guile.

But wait.  Who’s that over there in the corner, quietly scheming while sharpening a boning knife and a stiletto?  Why, isn’t that Eddie O Sullivan, currently unemployed and a PE graduate of our local university.  Now, if anyone would be happy to cut out the deadwood, without emotional attachment to old pals, that man would be Eddie.  Eddie would have no problem dropping senior players, or axing senior coaching staff.  Just ask Warren Gatland.

Eddie doesn’t believe in making friends. He  just manages.  Of course, we need to remember how he managed to split the Irish team down the middle in France, leading home a bedraggled, dispirited and divided squad filled with suspicion and devoid of confidence.  But apart from that, he did fine.  I hear that Eddie was spotted a couple of weeks back sharing a quiet pint in Tom Collins’s bar with Brian O’Brien and Niall O’Donovan, which of course might have been a perfectly innocent meet-up of old pals, or not.

I think Eddie would polarise Munster.  Half of us would say he’s the perfect choice for the job, while the other half would say Hire that bastard over my dead body. We don’t want a manager who’ll split the players and the supporters, and this is why I think my idea will work.

Who’s the one man capable of uniting the entire squad and all the supporters in complete hatred for him?  He’s currently out of a job after a very senior position in world rugby.

My friends, I give you Martin Johnson.

Categories
Rugby

Northampton 36 — Munster 51

At half time it was 19 each.

I glanced at Wrinkly Joe and he glanced back at me.  Jesus, we could actually do this.

Do what?  Go to Northampton, that’s what — sorry, to Milton Keynes — and secure at least one point to guarantee a home quarter-final.

On paper it didn’t look good, for many reasons.  First, Northampton are a fine outfit who took us to within a whisker when they came over here.   They beat us by a single point in the 2000 Twickenham final, they’d want revenge after ROG stole the home game in the 84th minute, and they’d be looking to qualify for the Amlin challenge.

Much respect here.

Furthermore, the referee, Romain Poite, was booed off the pitch at Thomond Park after his disgraceful handling of the All Blacks game, and is no friend of Munster.

It’s true that Northampton were missing Ashton, Wood and Lawes, but Munster are missing Howlett, Leamy, Wallace, Flannery and Ronan, so we can call that even.   Nevertheless, it all looked very tricky in theory leading up to the game and I must confess I wasn’t feeling especially confident.  I thought we might steal a losing bonus point, but I never thought for one second that we’d witness a complete demolition of the home team, with Simon Zebo securing a hat-trick of tries and Munster scoring at will.

By half time, we had weathered the inevitable early surge and the home team were going in with no advantage after expending vast reserves of effort.   I felt fairly happy with that, but you can’t afford to be complacent because you never know what’s going to happen in the next phase of the game.  I certainly didn’t expect two tries in rapid succession from Johne Murphy and Simon Zebo, but I also didn’t expect Romain Poite to award a second penalty try against Munster whose scrum, in fairness to Northampton, was completely destroyed.

Zebo’s Forrest Gump interception killed off the Northampton challenge, with his try guaranteeing a home draw no matter what happened, and after that it was just a kick-about in the park.  Zebo ran in a ridiculous third try, converted by Keatley, who came on for O Gara, and although Armstrong managed to get over the line in the last minute, it was scant consolation for the Saints, whose conversion was the last kick of the game.

You might find it strange to hear me saying this, but I didn’t rejoice at such a comprehensive defeat of Northampton at home.  They’ve always been honourable opponents and we didn’t need a huge victory to become top seeds.  I’d have been happier if they had sealed their place in the Amlin Cup.

I know.   You’re probably shrugging, but that’s how I feel about it.

On the other hand, it’s very nice to see Munster emerging from the ruck as top seed, ahead of Leinster, and undefeated in six games.  I don’t know yet who we’ll face in the quarter finals here in Limerick, but I think it will either be Edinburgh or Ulster.  We’ll establish that tomorrow, but one way or another we know that three games now stand between us and a third Heineken Cup.  Say it quick and it doesn’t sound like much, but each of these challenges will be huge.  If we get through the first, we face a bigger one and if we get through that we face something enormous, but you know what?

We’ve been there before, and we’ve won this competition twice, so let’s be a little optimistic for a while.   It’s not as if we don’t need a bit of optimism for a change.

 

 

Categories
Rugby

Used To Be This Place Was Angry

Used to be a testing ground for theories, opinions or ideas which were debated and, out of necessity, thrashed to within an instant of an occasionally terrifying existence before either emerging  bloodied but unbowed, or alternatively  discarded to an ethereal oblivion never to see the light of day again.

Used to be this place put structure on posits and demanded rigorous examination of things. Used to be that nothing was accepted at face value here, references were checked and it used to be that facts were torn to shreds until they yielded up a bias or grew in stature because of the debate.

The Celtic tiger came and went and was seen here for the charlatan it was, so too with the church, FF, woo merchants , local politicians , big business –  all were found out here.

Nothing could make this site, its custodian, readership or contributors lose their critical facilities and acquiesce to the status quo.  It was a nihilist and a custodian of right and of proper. If something couldn’t be seen, heard, tasted, smelled or felt – this place would not accept it. This place found out the flimflam merchants and chastened them. Nothing bogus escaped, it was nailed and crucified, had fingers poked into wounds and thorns mashed onto lying heads.

Used to be.

Err… what?

Here’s what.

Plus 3 + Plus 2 + Plus 3 +Plus 6 + last Saturday’s less than convincing Plus 16.

What?

5 matches – 5 wins – no home draw.

So?

Cheer leading for the Paulie and Rog show.

 And?

The passive acceptance of a flawed team playing a nearsighted game which has no chance of winning the European cup. The tacit agreement with a coach and management team who have calculated that a fighting quarter final display will keep their jobs for another year.

So make your point.

My points are that we (you, me, this site) have become apologists for a losing Munster team – a team with a flawed, built-for-losing, design.  That we have come to accept pyrrhic displays over solid victories, have come to value drama over substance. That we, one of the best-supported and resourced teams in Europe have stopped questioning why this team is under performing.

In short – the problem with Munster is us.

Oh love is blind and love is chemical and we the fans, the wounded party, are always the last to know about the cheating bastard that is Munster – and love facilitates a blissful denial of the inevitability of a searing hot day in the south of France when this team will be found out. Yes the forwards are so much stronger this year – the South African twins in the front row as solid as Michael McDowell and Kevin Myers are deluded right wing fascists – young O ‘Mahony and his bit of devilment and Coughlan (that’s coc-lan and not the Cork-pronounced Coughlan as in Cauldron). Yes- they’re so much stronger and more competitive since we’re now starting the right Donnacha.

So why are we just scraping by  – the poor child of the quarter finals – soon to arrive home from Milton Keynes, with a forlorn look and the uncertainty of an away day abroad in god knows where, and not a home quarter final at the citadel?  And why are you (we) denying me this?  Why are we denying ourselves what is our due when we know what has been sacrificed for this farrago?  The sacrifice of the best ever Irish club rugby league in which our local teams were so successful.

For what?

For a team that is not able to play the type of game required to win the competition., that’s what.

There is no Sean Payne or Trevor Halstead or Rua Tipoki in this team – no Paul Warwick – no obvious replacement for Howlett – no investment in a strong, talented and vital back line who can cope with and excel in the fast modern offloading game, the game which is an absolute must to win this European thing.

But this is not the worst – that is reserved for the damning indictment of an ambitionless management and coaching staff that have sat on their hands and let this situation evolve.  Why? (Remembering that Munster is one of the best-resourced,  best supported  and best funded teams in the competition).   Why aren’t funds available to bring in the quality that is required to win this competition? Or develop is locally?  What is the money being spent on?

Why have Leinster become better than us?  Why do they have a stream of talent, indigenous and foreign, coming through as if on tap and as and when required?

It is not right.

 

Categories
Rugby

Munster vs Castres

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.

______________

UPDATE

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.

 

_________

UPDATE

 

Niall Ronan out with knee injury

 

Categories
Rugby

Munster vs Castres. The Hunt for Tickets.

Sometimes, when the bullet-fragment lodged in my hip begins to hurt beyond human endurance, there’s nothing for it but to sip the laudanum and sit down to ponder.  Damn those Tuaregs.

The wind was picking up and the ivy tapped at my study window like a bent old crone seeking alms as I pulled the chair close to my escritoire, and resumed my latest monograph on the typographical peculiarities of Remington typewriters, when the phone, fashioned from a hollowed-out raven, rang.

Ring-ring!  Ring-ring!  Ring-ring!

I could tell in a trice who it was, by observing the hour of night — a time when all good men are abed, apart from those such as myself, and the brute I now suspected was calling..

I lifted the device from its cradle.  Hello, Dick, I greeted him.

Crikey, Guv, rasped the villain, for it was he.  Limehouse Dick.  How do you do it?  Eh?  Strike me pink.

Simple, I indulged him.  Even for a dolt such as yourself, this is elementary.  First, the hour is past midnight, when no decent man is awake, except he be engaged in worthy study, as I am myself.  Second, times are hard, and scoundrels are short of a shilling.  Third, ’tis but a week shy of the Munster-Castres match at Thomond Park.  And therefore, I deduce that you call with news of tickets.

‘Deed I do, Squire.  ‘Deed I do.

What can you offer?  I demanded.  Come on.  Come on.  I’m a busy man.

Best I can manage, Squire, is two tickets for the East terrace.

Splendid, I said.  So much better than those ludicrous seated vantage points in the oddly-named “stand”.

It’ll cost ya, Guv.  These things is like ‘ens teeth.

A mere trifle, my good man.  I’ll send old Scrotum, my butler, into town in the Bentley with a bag of sovereigns.

Eh, Guv?

Yes?

Are you feelin’ all right?  Last time we talked tickets, you threw me out the window.  I was in hospital for three months.

Perfectly well, Dick.  Thank you for asking.  I’ll tell Scrotum to tip you handsomely.

Pressing the raven’s beak, I hung up and left Limehouse Dick to his bafflement.  It pays to keep the villains guessing.