We have been here before Munster Rugby. Leinster Rugby winning their fifth consecutive fixture against Munster Rugby, their ninth in the last ten fixtures and in truth some of the key elements to those previous losses came back to bite Munster Rugby hard late yesterday at a snowy Thomond Park.
10-13. Leinster Rugby will be the first to admit that their performance was patchy particularly in that opening quarter; discipline issues and conceding field position to the hosts.
Positive Munster Rugby start
JJ Hanrahan slotting over a long range penalty to open the scoring and when Munster Rugby’s pack were presented with an opportunity to strike from close range, they did so with Beirne crashing over thanks to O’Mahony and Kleyn support.
Leinster Rugby secure foothold in contest
10-0 up and Munster Rugby were in the ascendency but has being a hallmark of the Johann van Graan managerial era, the team looked to consolidate instead of pushing on for more points.
Leinster Rugby now getting a foothold in the game, increasing the Munster Rugby tackle count and penalties followed. Heroic last man standing defense from Munster where Beirne was colossal at the breakdown.
A breakdown infringement providing Sexton with an easy opportunity to open Leinster Rugby’s account. 10-3.
Closing half exchanges huge momentum swing
The closing stages of this opening half personally were the defining moments of the game.
Munster Rugby responding to the Sexton score with some concerted pressure and when Doris was pinged for offside, JJ Hanrahan was presented with a penalty to extend the lead.
The penalty hit the post but for me what was most disappointing was the chase from Munster Rugby. It was a long distance kick but there was no cohesion in the run chase here. Munster Rugby players looked to have zoned out with the game in the red.
Leinster Rugby to their credit refused to let the ball go dead and looked to test Munster Rugby again with a series of phases and cue the penalty concession.
Sexton showing Hanrahan how it is done by nailing a superb long range penalty. Six point swing and for all Munster Rugby’s good moments, the scoreboard was tight. 10-6 at the break.
That penalty miss…
This game started so well for JJ Hanrahan with that early pen but unfortunately it descended from there. For all the good stuff Hanrahan executed yesterday, his main role is to keep the scoreboard ticking over. In marquee fixtures such as last night. when opportunities are created, the penalties needed to be kicked.
His fifty-six minute penalty opportunity was unfortunately another turning point moment. Munster Rugby had started the second half with gusto, pack looking to take the game to Leinster Rugby.
The penalty miss was a poor one, no conviction in the kick. Leinster Rugby sensed they were out of jail and Munster Rugby self doubt started to creep in. Hanrahan again exposed with his kicking off the tee against Leinster Rugby.
Leinster Rugby sense their opportunity and take it
The hallmarks of a champion is when the side are not playing at full tilt, they find a way to win and this Leinster Rugby when required show massive composure with ball in hand to win games like last night.
I tip my hat to their team, their managerial and backroom organization. The winning mentality to get the job done, something that this Munster Rugby side against Leinster Rugby in particular is distinctly lacking.
The game winning score was a sensational effort. Social media was a frenzy with the lineout. Was the lineout straight? I do not really care about that as for both sides, it was what they did immediately after which defined the game. A superb ball carry to take Healy and de Allende (defensive lynchpin) out of the game.
The ball was spun out wide and Munster Rugby defensively for once were not in synch and stretched. Credit to Ross Byrne, the grubber kick asked a question and Munster Rugby did not have a response.
Shane Daly’s attempt to stretch the leg meekly out will not be a good look at video analysis and his reaction immediately afterwards was not good, no desire to sprint back and rescue the situation.
The interplay was sensational from Leinster Rugby given the conditions. Keenan’s offload to the superb running line of Jordan Larmour was worthy of winning any game. Larmour loves this Thomond Park fixture.
The reaction from the Leinster Rugby players spoke volumes; game was secured with ten minutes to go. They were not going to lose this now. 10-13 as Byrne did the needful off the tee.
Munster Rugby go back to type
Munster Rugby were forced to react but what we got in the last ten minutes was conservative game calling; box kick looking for a Leinster Rugby back three player to cough up possession.
Munster Rugby not looking to take the initiative, looking for a mistake mentality was not going to cut it. The sight of Craig Casey launching four box kicks in a row in the closing stages belied the ability and talent the player has who usually is looking to run set plays.
The end of the game was apt. Porter who had struggled initially on scrum set piece commanding in the last scrum of the game. Leinster Rugby penalty. Game over. 10-13.
Leinster Rugby secure another Thomond Park victory. Munster Rugby the student who is a hard worker but is wholly unaware of the past mistakes and commit the same mistakes again and again.
Leinster Rugby are the true acid test for any side in European club rugby. They have set the standard for years and this was a superb opportunity for Munster Rugby to unlock the self doubt and the shackles and win against Leinster Rugby. They had their chances last night but it was the same issues, the same mental blocks that have stifled this side for years.
More Munster Rugby lineout woes…
I have not mentioned the Munster Rugby lineout. I mentioned this on Twitter in my pregame thoughts, completely surprised at the omissions of Kevin O’Byrne from the matchday squad.
O’Byrne has done nothing wrong this season but the marquee game, he was dropped. It felt that established players got the nod on historical appearances (or at the behest of Andy Farrell) than current form.
Rhys Marshall provides massive mobility, ball carrying and physicality but his line out throwing is inconsistent and so it proved last night when James Ryan and co. asked the questions when Munster Rugby were in good scoring line out positions. The set piece fell apart.
The lack of cohesion and execution was poor. No excuses, it needed to be better on the night but this has been the trend in these fixtures for years now from Munster Rugby. O’Byrne probably not the only player to be disappointed at their omission last night.
Standout performers but no win
I am sorry for the likes of Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony, Gavin Coombes, CJ Stander, Conor Murray and Damien de Allende who were superb last night for Munster Rugby.
These fixtures expose the frailties in a squad and unfortunately the ten position and line out were highlighted ruthlessly. The fly-half position, the ability of a player to take the game by the scruff of the neck and make a game winning contribution was lacking.
Time for reflection and change?
Time to perhaps run the rule more on Healy and Crowley before Carbery comes back to the fold. You feel JJ’s time in the Munster Rugby ten jersey is slipping now. It is unfortunate but the lack of execution off the tee in recent Leinster Rugby fixtures is now telling.
For management, they need to improve their game plan. The Larkham effect in attack was minimal last night. The back three had precious little ball to get into the game. Second half saw impressive kicking from the back three than intent to run the game at pace.
Andrew Conway personally was a massive miss last night. The closing stage of the opening half, he would have been alert to the kick and possibility to chase the lost cause.
The selection process needs to be better; the young guns will get their game time now with Six Nations fast approaching but when it comes to the big matches, the trend is to go for tried and trusted who have failed to get over the Leinster Rugby man mountain game in, game out.
Grim stats from Munster Rugby perspective
The game stats last night. Munster went sixty-seven minutes without scoring. Given the misfiring lineout performance, they gave Leinster Rugby an out and they duly converted with both hands. Munster Rugby got what they deserved at the end; a loss. Nine losses out of ten to Leinster Rugby. Grim reading.
Can Munster Rugby evolve further, they need to!
Harsh lessons but as mentioned we have been here before. Can Munster Rugby as an organization from top to bottom improve and evolve further? They need to get over this mental and psychological block and move to the next level they crave. We won’t know that until the business end of the season. Intriguing times await!