"HOUSTON, we have a problem"
You can hide behind all the flimsy and superficial reasons that God has to offer when trying to explain the lack of hunger displayed by Munster over the last few months however, the only section of Munster inc that can be held responsible for this very uncomfortable period is, the players themselves.
Former Leinster and Irish international Neill Francis once branded the players of his home province as ladyboys because of the humiliating way they were letting teams walk all over them.
Some reckon that this labelling played a big part in lighting a fire under the arses of the Leinster players which led to them becoming the ruthless animal they have evolved into today.
Maybe if I depict Munster as “hand bag wielding fairies” it might trigger something in them and by the end of the season they will be crowned kings of Europe once more.
If only it was that easy!
Criticising your own is never an easy thing to do but, rugby is a sport where honesty is meant to flow in abundance and if this current squad of Munster players are serious about winning silverware, they need only to have a good look at the replay of this game and see how they were out played, out smarted and most significantly bullied off the park.
If Saturday evenings game was conducted as a trial and you were tasked with picking the best fifteen players with what was on display, you would be hard-pressed to include anyone in a red jersey.
At a push you might, just might be able to argue reasonable justification for the inclusion of Shane Daly, Dan Goggin and Dave Kilcoyne.
Apart from that, no one else would have a case to argue and if Irelands new coach Andy Farrell, is to select his players on form and not reputation, Conor Murray can say goodbye to his number nine green jersey.
Let there be no question about it that all players at some point will go through slumps in their careers and Murray is no different to anyone else.
The latest player to throw the gauntlet down in front of Murray is Ulster’s John Cooney who completely eclipsed the Limerick man on the night and ended his evening scoring 18 points from a try, a penalty and five conversions.
Cooney (29) is no spring chicken and whilst his name is not that well recognised, he certainly has served his apprenticeship hours.
Originally developing as yet another product from the Leinster conveyor belt, Cooney moved to Connacht in 2014 and on to Ulster in 2017 where he now finds himself as Irelands front runner to partner Johnny Sexton for the forthcoming Six Nations.
My hope on the night was that Murray would rise to the challenge but for many reasons that never transpired, and Cooney now fully deserves all the plaudits he is receiving and a starting position in Farrell’s first Six Nations team.
The old and well played out saying that forwards win games and backs determine by how much certainly rings through for this tie and the Munster backs were not afforded any kind of domineering platform to challenge this rampant Ulster side.
Most of the ball that was delivered by Peter O’Mahony and his fellow forwards was of little use to Munster’s half backs and when you play against a side like Ulster who are brimming with confidence and deploy a very quick and well organised defensive structure, you need a crisp and clean supply of ball if you are going to have any hope of quenching their fire.
In the engine room both Fineen Wycherley, Darren O’Shea were completely out classed, and it looked as if they were just happy to play second fiddle.
In sport you will not be afforded that many chances to make a name for yourself and it really annoys me when players are gifted opportunities to shine on big occasions and treat it as just another match.
When you compare the work ethic and attitude of Billy Holland (34) to what Wycherley (22) and O’Shea (27) offered during this game you have no choice but to question their inclusion.
The other sub unit that found itself licking its wounds was the Munster backrow and like Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony now has a job on his hands if he is going to hold onto his starting green jersey.
For a backrow to be effective they need to hunt like a pack of wolves who have not eaten for weeks.
When wolves hunt, their behaviour indicates that a great deal of forethought and problem-solving ability is involved, and they know that their hunger will not be appeased unless they work together because their prey is normally much bigger then them.
The return of C.J Stander will help somewhat but, at the moment the Munster backrow are working as individuals and that needs to change rapidly.
If there was one positive to take away form Saturdays hammering it would be that Joey Carbery clocked up a full eighty minutes with no obvious reaction to his recent injury.
Carbery looks like a player who needs a few games under his belt before he and the players around him becomes comfortable with the kind of reactive game he wants to play.
There were passages during Saturday’s game where it looked as if the Munster back line had just met each other for the first time and ended up getting isolated or running lines that a four year old drew up on the back of a Cornflakes box.
Forward passes, inaccurate running lines, miss communication in defence and a general look of confusion shrouded the Munster backs anytime they tried to address certain situations that confronted them.
I realise they are evolving under a new coaching structure and it will take time before Stephen Larkham’s vision of how he wants them to play will come to pay dividend.
You cannot run sideways and expect to win games of rugby unless you are playing the sevens version of the sport.
If your forwards pop up from a scrum or emerge from a line-out and cannot see a target to head for there will be no continuity and its continuity that leads to sides building, try scoring opportunities.
Judging from the performances that Munster have produced over the last few weeks only a complete fool would give them any hope of winning next weeks do or die game against Racing 92 in Paris.
I would expect whole sale changes to the side that started against Ulster and for Munster to play a far more direct form of rugby.
Hopefully, we won’t see a return to the kicking game that yielded us little or nothing over the last decade and that Larkham continues to push his concept of running rugby because if he doesn’t all the pain and suffering, we are going through now will have been for nothing.