Hawkeye Sidekick

European Champions Cup: Munster 19 – 31 Leicester

erc_logo

“Errors, mistakes are the necessary steps in the learning process; once they have served their purpose, they should be forgotten. If we consistently dwell upon the errors, then the error or failure becomes the goal.”

The words of the legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi sound apt for the start of my blog piece this morning. Errors and mistakes are part of every day life, it is how one learns from these tribulations that defines the character of one inside. Hawkeye Sidekick reviews the game footage and the video analysis session on Monday will not be a happy place for anyone associated with Munster.

Mid-December, a time when workers are out on Christmas parties, a festive season feel descends over Limerick and it means that Munster are in the back to back European Cup action. This time against old foes Leicester Tigers. The team that burst the unbeaten European Cup home dominance, the team with Neil Back in its ranks to scoop that ball back from that fateful scrum in the Millenium Stadium on European final day in 2002. There should have being no motivation speeches required for current Munster management and players to get up for this fixture.

After an even first quarter to this contest, Leicester pounced for two tries before half-time. Munster errors pivotal in the lead-up to both tries. Leicester’s pack were immense throughout, their lineout was far superior to their hosts all night and after a clinical lineout call forced Munster’s pack to concede numerous yards from the resultant maul, Leicester then launched their back line and Goneva danced his way to the line although Ian Keatley’s role defensively will be highlighted by management and fans alike. Munster after a promising start were now rocked on their heels and the inexperience in the line-out was exposed when Mike Fitzgerald crashed over after an errand throw from Scannell. The lineout failed to fire at the level expected to win a tie of this magnitude and it is a responsibility that Ryan and Chisholm must also shoulder in video analysis.

Munster could have surrendered with a whimper so credit for the fightback in that second half. Cronin’s try immediately after the restart raising hopes of yet another memorable comeback to make 18-11. An Ian Keatley penalty which led to a yellow card for Ayerza further enforced those beliefs but cue more Munster lack of quality and focus which has plighted the season so far. Copeland was a key performer for Munster with ball in hand all night but his defensive work for Leicester’s third try was horrendous. It is what you get with Copeland, dynamic ball carrier who at times can lapse defensively and so it proved tonight. The score was more galling consider that the Tigers were down to fourteen players, a score which was the defining score of the game. Yes, Sherry got over for a second Munster try on sixty-six minutes but Munster’s were never realistically in a position to deliver a blow to shake Leicester to their core. Two late Leicester penalties gave the scoreline the gloss that Munster will argue did not deserve but it inflicted yet another blow for Munster post O’Connell era.

Munster could not be faulted for effort but the squad quality is at a low ebb, injuries or not. The pack was bullied throughout and the breakdown area which was wholly exposed against Newport Gwent Dragons was further put into the microscope as McCaffrey enjoyed an excellent night for Leicester. Sherry will be summoned to shore up the lineout which misfired tonight, lineout calls were easily read by a rampant Leicester lineout unit who smelled blood early doors. CJ Stander and Robin Copeland provided the lung bursting ball carrying runs but several Munster players were guilty of not supporting the ball carrier, back line and pack alike and it cost Munster vital go forward ball and points on the score.

The game unfortunately was decided by the half-backs. As Conor Murray and Tomas O’Leary tried to nullify the threat of Ben Youngs whose form for club has being on point since the Rugby World Cup, Ian Keatley floundered in the pressure exerted by his opposite Williams who showed Welsh head coach Warren Gatland all the skills required to earn a 6N recall.

Williams’ game management, defensive work and penalty kicking were far superior to Keatley whose confidence has hit the abyss. Axel Foley’s decision to back Keatley over JJ Hanrahan (incidentally got his own dose of reality at Racing Metro) looks ill judged. Keatley’s form since the Ospreys playoff win last season has deteriorated to such a level that IRFU will demand Ian Madigan to exchange RDS for Thomond Park next season. Keatley still has a future in Munster but either at twelve or full-back. Bleyendaal has being a disaster and the desired out-half competition has flat out not happened. Standards have dropped in a pivotal position and Munster’s results recently have brought the out-half debate back into the spotlight. Injuries have played a part but there is nothing in that Munster back line to scare any team in Europe. The feared trip to Thomond Park is now no longer as daunting a prospect for an opponent, barren times loom large and one would fear for Munster at Welford Road next weekend.

Ineffective game management, indecisive support line running has being epidemic in Munster’s play this season. Management cannot legislate for the mistakes tonight but they are accountable for the recruitment and tactical game plan. Munster’s identity is muddled currently, no vision from the Munster hierarchy on where the club should be going both from a financial and playing perspective. Outside assistance is required both on and off the park. The lack of outside investment into the club speaks volumes, the Munster brand is not marketable currently.

Munster’s priority is to finish in the top six of the Pro 12. With the current squad, this will be a struggle. Axel Foley’s tenure with the team also looks a struggle, has tried his hardness but with a backroom staff with precious little experience in coaching at this level has exposed Foley to the point where a new face from the outside is required. Munster need to look to the outside, give the candidate at least five years to develop the scouting and playing staff to once more compete. The player acquistion has to be shrewd but is achievable. The local scouting network has to be enhanced and depth charts of all players in schools and junior leagues established. I question if Munster are scouting in all facets of the game in this province. A bad night for Munster but it has being coming. The sixteenth man will rise to the challenge but whether Fitzgerald (CEO) and cohorts will is another story entirely.