Category Archives: Munster Rugby

Lose the chip please Anthony?

The more things change, the more they stay the same?

Anthony Foley is widely recognised as one of the most intelligent players ever to come from these shores, and an obvious choice from the bootroom for Munster’s next head coach.

He’s ostensibly tactically astute, has a clear vision as to how he wants to play the game, and has put in place a team that looks, from the outside, full of ambition, intelligence, passion and forward thinking (albeit perhaps under experienced at this level).

And yet, for reasons beyond his control, the narrative around the first game of Foley’s reign is taken up by the embarrassing story of a private attachment being sent to players.

This sort of thing is unfortunate. Perhaps in a more detail oriented setup like Joe Schmidt’s it would be seen as sacrosanct, and yet, it isn’t the end of the world. Details on what the actual references to players were have been sketchy, with some reports outlining overt negativity, and some saying there’s not much there at all.

Foley can’t turn back time and stop the mistake being made.

He can, however, change the narrative and retain some of Munster’s professional veneer.

‘Better when bitter’

Foley is, of course, part of the famous Munster ‘underdogs’ team. A side of Southern men who blazed a trail for Irish rugby in the south of France, hostile English atmospheres and defended their ‘citadel’ (as Gerry would put it) of Thomond for steamy nights to remember.

But times have changed. I spoke last year of how primitive Irish rugby can be when it comes to psychology and mentality. Schmidt has perhaps shifted this slightly, but we have some way to go.

In today’s Irish Examiner, Foley is quoted as saying the following:

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 09.16.06

Honestly, would any professional player reading this truly take anything from it? ‘It’s a clear reminder that there are people out there who want to get you and want to see you fail’?

Well yes, it’s professional rugby, each team you play every week will want to see you fail Axel…

Ill Judged?

This is either an ill judged quote picked from a press conference when both Foley and Fitzgerald were obviously under pressure or, and hopefully not, an attempt to  return to the ‘better when bitter’ mantra and stoke the ‘pashun’, ‘everyone is against us’ thinking of old.

(Seemingly CEO Fitzgerald was also quoted as saying ‘it’s not as if we’ve invaded Ukraine or Russia’. Perhaps best not to open the Eastern front with a match on Friday night eh Garrett?)

So who are these nasty people? Well, presumably, Foley is referencing Brendan Fanning of the Sindo, who broke the story on Sunday.

There was also consternation from the Munster camp yesterday that one journalist tried to get in contact with players last Saturday, again, presumably Fanning.

A journalist breaking a juicy story and attempting to get quotes from players? What fresh madness is this?

If the quotes Fanning took from the report are incorrect, then fine, state that. But so far, there has been on confirmation or denial of what the contents of the report actually are.

For me, it would befit the whole Munster organisation if this was handled with a simple apology, rather than an attempt to turn it into a rallying call against the meedja.

With Embra to come on Friday night and a relatively handy start to the season, perhaps Foley et al should try a little harder to keep the rugby in mind?

Edit:

Fanning had his say on these quotes on The Last Word this evening, and didn’t share Foley’s line of thought. Starts around 36 mins:

Supposed excerpts from the document have also been shared on Twitter. If I were Johne Murphy, I probably wouldn’t be too happy.

Trending – Noel Reid & the return of the ‘second 5/8th’ to Irish rugby

The first time I saw Noel Reid play in the flesh, I made up my mind that he’d never make it as a professional player.

It was a weird atmosphere in the R.D.S., a strange mixture of ambivalence and venom on a sunny 2012 Good Friday evening – a B&I Cup Semi Final with extra spice, the day before Leinster would hockey a woeful Cardiff in the Heineken QF.

Much of the crowd was made up of those who came only for the drink. The R.D.S. was turned into a sort of member’s club for the night, one of the only places you could enjoy a pint in Dublin. But the usual brotherly love between Leinster and Munster crowds, and a particularly raucous bunch of Southern invaders, who had obviously made use of the alcohol availability, meant venom wasn’t in short supply!

On the night, Munster brought a fairly experienced team, while Leinster were relying more on untested Rabo players and a few bigger boys thrown in. I had heard a lot about an impish little playmaker and was looking forward to seeing him live at a fairly decent level.

Reid started that night at 10, and to say he had a nightmare would be selling it short. He was blocked down twice as far as I can remember, got turned over in contact, kicked poorly and passed poorly. He was small, light and completely shown up by his fairly limited Munster counterpart Scott Deasy. Munster won after extra time, Martin Moore showed his promise, but the big disappointment was the performance of our 10.

In the pub after, we predicted he’d diminish into obscurity, one of those Leinster names that you remember in passing.

How wrong I was though eh?

Footwork

Bulked up, devoid of the scrum cap, but retaining that playmaking ability, Reid has flourished in a permanent move to 12. Last season’s breakout was similar in many ways to how the likes of Eoin O’Malley, Dave Kearney and Fergus McFadden burst onto the scene with strong Rabo performances.

Reid looked solid in the tackle, and his footwork, speed, support lines and passing  were some of the only highlights in a pretty staid Leinster Rabo backline, culminating in an Ireland cap in Argentina during the Summer.


At 24, and given the competition at 12 behind him in Leinster, Reid was perhaps entering last chance saloon, but now he’s supping champagne at the main bar. Perhaps more interestingly, in recent days, BOD, D’arcy, Heaslip and Matt O’Connor have all name checked the Clontarf lad as being a key part of the backline for this impending season.

Knowledge

For as long as we care to remember, Leinster’s 12 has been more bosh and ‘Bod foil’ than silky skills, McFadden and particularly D’arcy have played the power game to a more nuanced 13 with aplomb in recent times.

On the other hand, the term ‘second 5/8th’ in an Antipodean sense fits Reid’s bill – a smaller general supporting the two inside. The likes of Beale, O’Connor, Lealiifano and in particular Giteau have played the role recently for Oz, normally with a powerful 13 outside them, so MOC will have plenty of knowledge of the system.

Reid’s rise will come in tandem with the departure of the hallowed one at 13. With many expecting D’arcy, McFadden and Te’o to come into that jersey throughout the year,  a playmaking 12 could be critical to unlocking a backline with one of these three in the outside jersey.

Reid will also get an extended run of games, with many of the others subject to national stipulations. Like Ruddock last year and Kearney the year before, he could flourish into an important leader in that backline.

Luckily, Leinster have another potential 12 in waiting in Madigan. Increasingly, my opinion is that he’ll never make an international class 10, and with his step, pass, bulk and particularly with Le Sex supposedly returning 12 could be the answer. The extra space offers him more time to line up a man and cut a line, which is one of the key parts of his game.


O’Connor has been murmuring about an emphasis on improving backline play, as we saw from Madigan in the Rabo Final and Reid throughout the year, he has plenty of options.

Trending

The playmaking 12 seems to be the tactic du jour in Irish rugby at the minute, with our aforementioned Southern brethren set to trial it too. Since day one, Foley has been clear in his promise of having two footballers in those key positions, and with three men capable of interchanging in Hanrahan/Keatley/Bleyendaal, we should see a far smarter Munster backline. Having both Hanrahan and Keatley on the pitch at the same time last year yielded mixed results, but did seem to work in the Aime Giral…


The split backline will likely be used, with an increasingly world class Murray trusted to make the decisions, while Smith at 13 might be a similar signing to Te’o, a hard hitting, ‘up the jumper’ type to provide balance to the nuance inside.

Similarly up norf, the cult of Stuart Olding is growing. Many see the golden haired one as a 13 or 15 predominately, but with Luke Marshall’s future looking slightly cloudy and neither Cave or Payne likely to pull strings at 12, this too could be an option for Kiss to trial, at least in the Rabo.

For Reid, being mooted by BOD on his BT Sport debut, and MOC on his first big interview of the season as ‘one to keep an eye’ must be a huge boost, given where he’s come from. This should be a very interesting season for proponents of the running 12.

* Noel Reid image via Inpho

Search for a scapegoat as expected, but Munster backline a worry…

Was it ever going to be any other outcome?

Not the result of the game I mean, a tough, error ridden battle on a foggy Aviva night was expected.

No I’m referring to the reffing complaints.

From the second Alain Rolland was announced as a replacement for Monsieur Whistle Happy Gauzere last week, the aftermath of ‘O’Clasico’ was always going to be a shitfest.

The excuses were there for either side.

A Leinster loss would, of course, have meant Rolland was trying too hard to hide his hometown bias, while a Munster loss was an easier scenario to describe – a former Leinster player with the blue jersey on under his reffing outfit, looking to ping any man in red. Even Anthony Foley couldn’t resist painting that picture on Friday.

And thus, so it transpired! Not 10 minutes after the final whistle, the moaning started across the usual channels.

 

 

In reality, there wasn’t much contention last night. The first half went as many had expected. Munster came out with all guns blazing, looking to lay down a marker and ruffle a few feathers (three cliches in one sentence, maybe I could be a sportswriter after all!).

The pressure on Leinster’s scrum was obvious from the start, with Bent’s  slight frame not able to take the weight from Botha and O’Connell behind him.

Munster went into a quickfire 9-0 lead, without really threatening the Leinster line, and you thought back to Harlequins last year and how Munster’s relentless intensity overcame a lack of any real coherent gameplan to overwhelm Quins.

Leinster, on the other hand, made error after error. While Madigan’s credit was in the black overall, he kicked at least two out on the full in the first half, Leinster made three poor handling errors, the lineout misfired and the scrum was under constant pressure.

And yet, it could have easily been 9-12 at half time. Munster weren’t fluid enough to put any real patterns together, despite that dominance.


The third quarter was the turning point, and perhaps illustrated the greatest difference between the sides at the minute.

There’s no doubt that the gap is as close as it has been for the past few years, but Leinster’s clarity, accuracy and speed in attacking in waves is perhaps the reason why they’re still, for the moment anyway, the top dog.

Shorn of their groundhog and leader O’Mahony, Munster struggled to stop carriers like Heaslip, Strauss and others, never mind get into place for the jackal. Tommy O’Donnell had a quiet evening as the open space he relishes never really materialised. Yet again, this fixture was won at the ruck and here Leinster were on top.

Madigan’s often kamikaze running style and Reddan’s attacking of the blindside kept Munster’s pillar and close in defence occupied, and the tempo told with 13 points and a yellow card in a 20 minute period.

Back to Mr Rolland though. It was during this period that most of the post game revisionism focused on.

Some of the wags on a particularly vociferous MF.com dubbed Mr. Rolland ‘Alain Le Bleu’, but realistically, there wasn’t much to complain about this time around. While Rolland may have missed some things, that’s the nature of reffing a derby with two ‘borderline’ teams and he exhibited consistency and balance for both sides.

Firstly, let’s take the yellow card. 

Kilcoyne’s ‘play dead’ impression was foolish at best, at a time when Munster had given away two penalties and were on a warning. There can be no complaints here. Leinster went in for the kill, and while it didn’t come from that driving maul, it came soon after. There were queries about the legality of D’arcy in the run up to the try, but it would have been a harsh call to state ‘held and grounded’ in that instance.

Dave Kilcoyne does his best ‘play dead’ impression while on a team warning.

Later, at the other end, Leinster infringed twice in close succession, Rolland gave his warning and Munster kicked the penalty.

Now, no two penalties are the same, I’ll agree, but across the gamut of professional sports, all players say they want from an official is consistency. Leinster were let off the hook, while Munster took the warning and infringed again.

Elsewhere, the scrum battle was won by Munster, who were rewarded in the first 20 minutes. After that however, it became the Kilcoyne/Ross show. It’s not beyond the bounds of realism to say that Ross schooled his younger compatriot in some of the darker parts of the front row.

Some suspect binding and ‘slips’ took some of the pressure off Bent on the other side. However, let’s remember a certain ailing Marcus Horan doing a similar job for Munster a few years back in Thomond against a furious Ross.

While both Varley and Penney complained at the end about their lack of reward from the scrum, if you look back at it, in reality the second half was fairly even, with Munster not really getting a shove on, or at least enough to warrant a penalty that wasn’t given.

Alain wasn’t the reason Munster lost this game, and neither was the scrum battle.

Munster’s backline play is still constipated. The selection of ‘Sonny Din’ Hurley at 12 was supposed to bring more offloading and a sprinkle of finesse into the backline, but didn’t work.

For me, Laulala is the biggest enigma in a red jersey. I commentated last night about just how dangerous he is in space, and his offloading skills can create holes in any defence.

Off to France at the end of the seasion, Laulala has never really fully fit with the Munster model, playing like a looser Mafi with worse defence.

However, distribution doesn’t seem to come into Casey’s vocabulary. Keith Earls was left idle for most of the game last night, and most of Munster’s second half attacking play saw Zebo, Earls or VDH running their own broken patterns.

A gamble to play Hanrahan at 12 would be huge at this stage, but his distribution skills might be worth it. Munster’s back three is capable of big things, but the lateral nature of their play is taking away any space at the minute.

Munster only once really threatened the Leinster line, and despite some good quick ball, never really looked to be all that incisive. That’s a worry, and against a Toulouse team that can score at will, it could cost them dearly. Will forward power and penalties be enough to beat a top French side?

On the Leinster side, there were heartening performances from Heaslip and Jennings, who comprehensively outplayed their opposite numbers, along with Reddan, who did likewise.
 


Reddan and Madigan will be the starting halfbacks in the Mayol on form, but will need to kick better and control the game a lot more if Leinster are to prosper.

A big performance from Jennings will be sorely needed next weekend, given the likely makeup of the Toulon backrow will include ‘pocket rocket’ Steffon Armitage.

Leinster’s scrum will be bolstered by the return of Healy, and likely Moore & McGrath too, while the ball carrying strength of Rhys Ruddock will be critical. McLaughlin is not having a good season and doesn’t seem to possess the ballast of Ruddock at this stage.

The friendly fire is over in any case. The real test of both these teams will be where they respectively stand come Sunday evening. Don’t be surprised if it’s Toulon v. Munster in a semi final and Mr. Rolland’s performance is forgotten about quickly.

By the by, I understand the need to entertain the fairweather/prospective (delete as appropriate) fans who attend these games along with the usual die hards, but would it really harm the occasion to kill all the theatrics, cheerleaders, incessant inserts from the P.A. and fireworks etc? The derby atmosphere in the Aviva is always strangely muted, could it be that the attempt to ‘create an atmosphere’ is actually the reason? Just a thought Leinster Rugby…