Munster, 12 great years, time to press on.

17 01 2011
Heineken Cup final 2000 v Northampton Photo:Eric Luke - Irishtimes.com

Heineken Cup final heartbreak 2000 v Northampton Photo:Eric Luke - Irishtimes.com

12 years of reaching the qualifying stages of European Cup rugby. Consecutively.

Yesterdays game in the south of France was a disappointment for all Munster rugby supporters, a disappointment but not a surprise. The warning signs of yesterdays exit from the Heineken Cup have been there for quite some time. Reliance on heart and grit to get Munster through the current set of problems was not enough. Munster have qualified for the knockout stages on the Heineken Cup 12 times in succession and yesterday saw the end of that proud record. Next weekend’s final group game against London Irish could be the last European game for a few of their great servants.

Congratulations to Toulon, they outplayed Munster and deserve to qualify for the knockout stages.

But what next for Munster, both short-term and longer-term, how does the team bounce back? It’s time to take stock, time for a few great servants to move on, then time to rebuild. A shake-up of this squad is necessary, a shake-up of the management is also required. Keeping up appearances

PROBLEMS
In the first half, Munster played without an apparent game plan. Unable to string phases together with conceding possession or penalties. They made little effort to play for territory, instead opting to spread the ball wide where the well organised Toulon defense more often than not shepherded the wingers into touch. The backline play was unimaginative, predictable and lacked any penetration.
There was a real lack of discipline in this Munster side, Donnacha O’Callaghan’s needless obstruction earned him a yellow card, only from Ronan O’Gara to see yellow later in the game for an off-the-ball incident with Toulon scrumhalf Mignoni. It wasn’t until the last 10 mins when they 23pts down that we kept the ball alive and this is what they should have been doing all match. Meanwhile, the Munster scrum had that familiar creaking sound that we have been hearing all season.

RETIREMENT?
The issue of players who appear to be beyond their prime is one that has to be addressed. Is it finally the end of the road for  John Hayes, Marcus Horan, Alan Quinlan and David Wallace? The scary answer to this question for two of these players is no. Hayes and Wallace will almost definitely be taken on the plane to New Zealand later in the Autumn and, so, will play up until the World Cup is over.  But Munster need to go deeper than just replace those that retire. There is immediate need for some international-standard players in key positions. To make this happen Munster should consider the release of Mafi and Tuitupou. This along with the departure of Paul Warwick free’s up three Non-Irish-Qualified player contracts.

REBUILD
So, whats on Munster’s shopping list for the close season? an inside centre, an International-standard backrow and a Tighthead Prop perhaps?
Looking at previous Munster inside-centers, the likes of Halstead and Tipoki are Munster legends, both similar hardman-straight-running-battering-ram-style players.
Watching yesterdays game and lack of penetration by the backs, this weakness was never more apparent. With a style of player such as Halstead playing alongside Keith Earls would reap much richer rewards than what we have witnessed over the past couple of seasons. One player that fits this mold of inside center is Kiwi Ma’a Nonu, the rumors of his move to Munster have quietened in the last month or so, but expect then to flare up again very soon!
Regarding the backrow, Munster have some quality coming through from the academy in Peter O’Mahony and Paddy Butler, but they would benefit from a international-standard backrower to balance things out. As far as the tighthead prop situation goes, all I can say is that Ulster Rugby will need to keep 24hr surveillance on BJ Botha until he has signed a new contract for them. The Munster management missed a trick by not making inquiries regarding Connacht’s young prop Jamie Hagan has been outstanding for
them this season. He signed deal last week which will see him staying in the west for another 2 years.  It’s now time to blood the up and coming players like Mike Sherry, Ian Nagle, Peter O’Mahony and Conor Murray.

SILVERWARE:
Munster still 9 points clear at the top of the Magners League and are as-good-as qualified for the knockout stages. The Amlin challenge Cup should be our next target, The next 3 best pool runners-up after the 2 who qualify as 7th and 8th seeds for the Heineken Cup get in. What do Munster need to do to qualify? Win next week with 4 points and Castres have to get a 5pt win against Northampton to overtake Munster.

I’m going to leave it at that for the moment, Before I go, have a quick read of the below piece written by Limerick’s own Richard Harris that he wrote before the 2002 Heineken Cup final. Let it remind you of the good times this team has given all of their fans, Be proud of a great team who the fans plenty over the years.

=====

How do you explain a love affair?

By Richard Harris The Telegraph, London May 24, 2002
It belongs to the heart, not the head. Something to be embraced, or spurned – there can be no middle ground.
There are those who stare blank-faced when I talk of rugby but others instantly understand my breathless enthusiasm and stomach-churning anxiety. We are the lucky ones.

Munster rugby, Limerick rugby. Through gritted teeth, as we approach Saturday’s historic occasion at the Millennium Stadium – Munster v Leicester in the Heineken Cup final – I must also acknowledge Cork’s wonderful contribution to Munster rugby over the years, but the essence of the game I know and love is to be found in Limerick.

The heroes of Limerick rugby are my heroes. Gladiators, square-jawed warriors who represent us on the battlefield. They are also heroes off the field – men who can drink, sing and talk of great deeds. I am intensely proud of individuals such as Peter Clohessy, Mick Galwey, Anthony Foley and all the boys. Keith Wood, whose father I used to play alongside, is another hero. He lives the rugby life we all dream of.

It was a bitter-sweet day two years ago at Twickenham when we lost to Northampton, but the sweet lingers longest. There must have been 30,000 Munster fans in red – an unforgettable and moving sight – and they conducted themselves beautifully. Supporting his rugby team is almost the only way a Munsterman can display his allegiance; we have no other comparable sporting or cultural outlet.

Rugby has always been there for me, even if I have occasionally gone AWOL. I have enjoyed its many pleasures, as a player and spectator. Perhaps it is the sociability or possibly it’s just the sheer physical pleasure that appeals. Very little on this earth can beat soaking your body back to life in a warm bath after an afternoon of cold rain, mud and pain with the prospect of pints and high jinks ahead. A warm glow envelopes you.

Or maybe rugby simply brings out the best in people. It’s a chicken and egg situation. Does rugby simply attract the sort of person whose friendship and qualities I enjoy or does the game itself – the actual physical confrontations and challenges it presents – help mould and create those people? Answers on a postcard, please. There is an instant recognition and understanding between rugby people. Would that it be so easy in the ‘showbiz’ world where, you may have noticed, I am not universally popular.

I remember phoning Sir John Gielgud on his 90th birthday. I didn’t know him really but admired the man tremendously from afar.

“Happy birthday, Sir John,” I bellowed down the line. “This is Richard Harris phoning from the Bahamas, just to wish you Happy Birthday and thank you for everything you have done for British theatre. We are hugely in your debt.”
“Harris, you say,” replied Sir John. “I don’t know a Harris. Of course there is that very loud, vulgar chap from Ireland. Did the Camelot thing. Very bad reputation with drink and women I believe. Very bad indeed. Rugby chap. Anyway, thank you so very much for phoning from Bermuda. So sweet.” “Bahamas, Sir John, Bahamas.” “Yes, yes, yes, yes. The sun shines there as well, I believe.”
I was a second-row at school but seriously miscast. I should have been a flanker. I loved roving, snaffling tries, putting in big hits – though we called them tackles in those days. I attended Crescent College, played in two Munster Schools finals and represented Munster Schools and Munster

Under-20 – I still wear that very red shirt and intend to be buried in it, I have left instructions – before TB struck and I discovered books, women and a hitherto unsuspected, or submerged, desire to act and show off.
God, they were great days. To play rugby and glory in your fitness. To feel invincible. If you could just bottle the moment. Rugby was life in Limerick. It was a love of sport and also a parish thing. The junior teams were based around parishes and local pride was always at stake. We were tribes and you needed visas to move safely between parishes. Inter-marriage was almost unthinkable. Garryowen man/ Shannon girl? Scandalous.

The rugby was intense and bloody hard – savage in fact – but, because we were neighbours, people were respectful and forgiving. Sometimes it was “them” against us – touring sides, the interprovincial champs – and the competing parishes became a tight-knit diocese. We could be quite parochial. The players and supporters in far-flung Cork – the Posh – hated us and the feeling was reciprocated. Deep down – so buried as to not be ordinarily visible – we also respected each other as fellow Munstermen, but such solidarity was only rarely displayed or articulated.

I have spoken before about my hatred of Frank McCourt’s book Angela’s Ashes and the film adaptation by Alan Parker – a highly selective, misleading and unbalanced look at life in Limerick. Let’s put the record straight. Limerick is one of the most progressive cities in Ireland, an industrial powerhouse and home to one of our great universities. Of course, it has known hard times, but it is a city in harmony with itself, a city that has never climbed above its station, yet will reach the pinnacle of its aspirations. It has history, culture and humour. Above all, it has rugby.

Not that we are above a little sporting chicanery. Do you remember those horrible quartered leather balls we used in the old days at school? Well, when the opposition were awarded a penalty in a kickable position two things happened, almost simultaneously. One of us would absentmindedly kick the ball to the touchline, while our captain was protesting to the referee or perhaps one of the forwards was receiving a lecture for over-vigorous play.
In the meantime our reserves had been “preparing” a second ball on the touchline, soaking it in a bucket of water until it weighed two or three pounds heavier than regulation. This was the ball that would be returned to play, totally unkickable. Happy days.

I adore Thomond Park, which I could see and hear from my bedroom in our house on the Ennis Road. It is the citadel of Munster rugby; we have never lost a European Cup game there in seven years. If Ireland played there we would never lose. Did I ever tell you I scored 19 tries and one dropped goal on the hallowed turf in various schools and junior games? I can recall every score in intimate detail. My proudest achievements – that and playing alongside Keith Wood’s dad Gordon, the Ireland and Lions prop – the day he scored four tries, appearing on the wing, in a cup match against Mungret.

I would give up all the accolades – people have occasionally written and said nice things – of my showbiz career to play just once for the senior Munster team. I will never win an Oscar now, but even if I did I would swap it instantly for one sip of champagne from the Heineken Cup.
Good luck, boys.

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5 responses

17 01 2011
Tweets that mention Munster, 12 great years, time to press on. « ninetyninecall – rugby -- Topsy.com

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tom Keating. Tom Keating said: RT @22dropout: [blog] Munster, 12 great years, time to press on: http://wp.me/pNaSk-b7 #rugby […]

17 01 2011
Bass

Yes, it wasn’t so much defeat as the manner of it that hurt. That’s not true of course, the defeat hurts too, but it would have been nice to go out with a bang rather than a whimper.

Always nice to revisit that wonderful Richard Harris piece.

Generally agree on what’s required now but surprised you don’t mention a new number 10: who is going to replace O’Gara?

17 01 2011
ninetyninecall

Keep an eye out for Ian Keatley who is rumored to have signed for Munster from Connacht.

18 01 2011
What now for Munster after Heineken Cup heartache? | The Rugby Blog

[…] reproduced with permission from ninetyninecall.wordpress.com Tweet Like this article? Please like The Rugby Blog on […]

19 01 2011
Fromthebottomoftheruck

If you were shopping in SA Jaque Fourie would be a great addition to the team for the backline – there is no incision in midfield at the moment, it is all very static. Juan Smith would be great as a loose forward, and a very good buy would be Duane Vermulen, very much in the Shaun Sowerby mould

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