Munster / Leinster Contrasting Fortunes
After the weekend we now know the two teams that will contest the Champions Cup Final in Bilbao on May 12th. Leinster and Racing 92 will face each other in what will be a cracking Final if the evidence of the two Semi Finals is anything to go by.
Leinster have proven yet again this year that they can play several different ways to gain victory, they can go wide, go through the forwards or kick for territory. The return of Robbie Henshaw was a massive fill up for the squad and Jamison Gibson Park made light of the fact that Luke Mc Grath was absent through injury.
You can be sure that the Leinster medical staff will do everything to have Luke Mc Grath fit for the Final. He will be given every chance to be fit. James Lowe missed out due to a rule that means only one New Zealand or Australian player can be in the match day 23 of any of the European side.
After the injury to Fergus Mc Fadden, there will be a push on to see can he be fit to take some part in the Final or in the knock out stages of the Pro 14. The Leinster performance on Saturday was very reminiscent of the performances that saw them win three European crowns.
The new breed of Ringrose , Leavy and James Ryan have had a major impact along with Stuart Lancaster. His attention to detail has helped Leinster rediscover the winning formula. He has also helped Leo Cullen and will surely want to see the side he has helped to mould over the last two years beat Racing 92 to win the Champions Cup.
From a Munster perspective, it is yet again more disappointment at the Semi Final stage in the Champions Cup after defeat last year to Saracens. There will be huge questions to be answered about how another Semi Final has ended in defeat !!
While Racing 92 were the better side like Saracens last year , this will still not solve the issues of why Munster started so slowly , this has happened a few times in recent years going back to the 2015 Pro 12 Final under Anthony Foley , then the 2016 Champions Cup Semi Final under Rassie Erasmus along with defeat in the Pro 12 Final in Dublin against the Scarlets.
You can point to all the injuries Munster have suffered losing Chris Farrell , Jaco Taute ,Tyler Bleyendaal and Chris Cloete to name a few but the team didn’t seem to learn the lessons of last season when they were beaten in the Semi Final by Saracens after being 6-3 down at half time in that game.
“The Top Two Inches” is another cliché that is used far too often in rugby and yes like all clichés it is true but in another knock out game Munster came out second best and it now a new group of players who at this point have been around for long enough to know what they need to do to win a big game.
A massive issue for Munster again this season is the lack of consistency in selection at out half, yes injury again ruled Tyler Bleyendaal out but Ian Keatley and JJ Hanrahan have enough big game experience build up in the red of Munster to know when a big game is required. Several facets of the Munster game plan faltered yesterday and they yet again were not able to come up with the answers until 20 minutes before the end.
Racing 92 stopped CJ Stander and others on the gain line time and again using the same tactic as Saracens did last year. Time and again we hear that you have to learn from your mistakes but yesterday proved that even in the world of professional sport, this particular message can be lost in translation.
The lack of imagination in attack has been another issue that will take time to fix , people can and will say I am just pointing out the negatives and that Munster are doing well to be at this stage every year but as Peter O Mahony said yesterday , he is tired of having to “ learn lessons from defeat”
The players face an interprovincial derby next Saturday against Ulster and they will need to try and find a way to finish the regular season on a high before the Pro 14 play offs begin….
This defeat will leave a bitter taste in the mouth, but the one way Munster can salvage the season is by standing up and being counted and they did that in the final 20 minutes yesterday and that can hopefully be a launch pad for the rest of the year……
Do I know what can get rid of this mental block when it comes to the knock out phase of games in both Europe and the Pro 14, my answer at this moment is no I don’t and it is as it always is up the players, staff and all involved with Munster to stand up and be counted and make sure that this campaign does not just fizzle out.
Cian Mc Gibney