And so here we go. The turkey has been eaten, the Pavlova has been demolished and (hopefully) the annual family argument has been avoided through conversation and an unhealthy consumption of alcohol.
So now, it is time for me to start an argument and offend. As always, details below for you to correct me where and if needed.
We arrive in Thomond Park on a cold Stephens’s day ready for a massive game between the number 1 and 2 provinces in Ireland. Both riding a wave of good results and positivity. 1 team performing optimally while blooding new players, the other by beating a rugby dinosaur in Leicester home and away. Leinster came in healthy form even with a few injuries in the first team. Changes were made and the confidence remained. Munster played a near full strength team with a lot of recent good news to fire them through the game.
And that is what I expected, I expected a Munster team to come in with aggression and adrenaline coming from the good news of the resigning of Stander and O’Mahony. A team that believed the hype of their most recent European wins. But instead they stared like I did during maths paper 1 in the leaving cert all those years ago. No ideas, no apparent game plan and no confidence in themselves. Their new coach has come in but hasn’t been able to put any kind of stamp on the team as of yet. He has been riding the wave. This was evident at various points during this game.
Thomond park was sold out, no space for a hedgehog. The crowd was expectant. This fixture is always a great way to get away from the family over Christmas and to exercise some of the cabin fever that sets in over the festive season.
The opening crowd noise was huge. I expected the Munster team to start at 100 miles per hour (or kilometres if you are still in the EU). Instead they started limply like me after………never mind that mental image!
Leavy put the marker down early winning a penalty and getting the visitors on the scoreboard first. Almost immediately Leinster looked ready for the physical fight that was going to take place. And almost immediately I became annoyed with the sky sports commentary, more on that below.
In 13 minutes, Leinster put 13 points up on the board and looked beyond comfortable. The only Munster player who was showing something to Leinster was Andrew Conway, the Munster player of the season so far in my opinion. In the home fixture it was himself and Earls who were the only players who looked capable of opening up Leinster. In this return fixture Conway was that only man in red for the first half. Leinster moved cohesively, they worked together and had a plan they believed in. Munster on the other hand, where the opposite. It really showed that the hype from the Leicester games was overboard. People were talking about Munster being a favourite for the European champion’s cup, on this first half showing, they wouldn’t be contenders in the challenge cup.
20-5 to Leinster at the end of the first half. They were good value for that and it was just far too easy for them. The mythical Munster comeback was expected, the sky sports pundits where salivating at the thought and the Thomond park crowd where…….well….very quiet! Leinster had not only put down the Munster team, they had silenced the crowd. A crowd that would only rally behind their team when they manage to bring themselves back into the game. This is a massive difference between this Munster crowd and the one of years past. In years past, the red army would be shouting along their team whether they were 20-5 up or 20-5 down. A sorry sight to be seen. This wouldn’t happen in the RDS.
The Munster team that came out for the second half where a different animal. They started the second half like they should have started the first. Angry! I understand that the half time result would have galvanised them but it shouldn’t take being 15 points down in a local derby against the old enemy to get that kind of performance. Even with the momentum on the red side. The pressure substitutions began early from Van Gran, Zebo was brought on earlier than planned and he did inject some pace into the game and worked well with Conway, who had an impressive finish in the 48th minute where he physically pushed Zebo away for him to score. Great to see. Munster scored twice in 5 minutes putting pressure on the Leinster newbies. There were 2 huddles on just before the first Munster try and then again after the second. Whatever was spoken began to work because from 55 minutes, Leinster kept the ball and chipped away at Munster. Brought the penalty count down and started to strangle the home side. This strangulation rugby continued until Jordan Larmour produced another highlight try cutting through the home side and showing a speed, turn and step that had King Joe reaching for his phone to put him on speed dial. Fantastic to see and it put the home side away. The crowd exhaled too. Began to get quieter, the only consolation being another Conway try.
Munster need to sign him for as long term as possible. Outside of him, very few performed for the entire game. The big signings where managed by the younger (cheaper) Leinster back row.
At the end of the day, it was easy for the visitors. RTE have a headline saying that Leinster ‘edged’ it. They must have been watching a different match. And this brings me to the second point. That being the commentary on Munster. Starting off, I understand that they are the province that opened the door to European championships, league titles and triple crowns in green. And in doing that, a lot of people of a certain vintage will have a soft spot for the red men. Completely understandable. But I spent the game being annoyed at the commentary team. Mark Robinson and Alan Quinlan where constantly talking about ‘micro wins’ and ‘is Lowe tackling properly’ throughout the game to the point where it became a hindrance. I understand it from Quinlan who always has his colours on his sleeve. No issue with that, but Robinson was beyond horrific. Watching a match where 1 team is losing by 15 and talking about bad tackle techniques from Lowe while trying to convince people that they were still in the game, when in actuality, they were never in the game. Maybe the entire aim of commentary like this is to wind up people like me, but surely the whole point of the main commentary person is to be objective and call the game, not show bias?
This media bias started after the first win against Leicester. Instead of calling it good win against a team that is not competing in their own league, and will not be competing at the business end of the season. It was a great building block for the new administration and along with the return leg win showed that Munster where on the way, but not there yet. Instead the media was putting Munster up as favourites with Clermont and Leinster. Absolute nonsense to anyone who watched the 2 rounds. Munster played well against a team who didn’t fight, didn’t have any ideas when they did fight and had a coach who sulked like a teenager who doesn’t get their way. Leinster came through a battle against the current and favourites to retain, English champions. A team with massive skill and threat. Leinster came through a second leg where they were down and lost players but still won. You think a team who did that is worried about going to Thomond Park against a team who beat Leicester?
We need to be realistic. Leinster are favourites for every competition they are in, Munster have a new coach who needs to find his way.
The better team won today, and won easily.
As usual, please contact me to discuss or correct where needed.