The David Corkery column: Leinster loss shows Munster are simply off the pace

The David Corkery column: Leinster loss shows Munster are simply off the pace
Ciaran Frawley of Leinster celebrates at the final whistle at Thomond Park. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

A GAME that didn’t exactly live up to its billing, the better team won but only just which won't console Munster fans.

Anytime that Munster play Leinster it normally sets the heart-rate racing. On this occasion, both sets of players seemed to leave all their true emotions behind them in the dressing room and produced a game of rugby that will not go down as a classic.

Or to put it another way, the game lacked that bit of bite that makes this tie such a great occasion.

It was like watching an Autumn episode of Gardeners World when everything living is preparing to go into hibernation.

There was just no spark of ingenuity and no one apart from Leinster’s James Lowe looked capable of setting the game alight.

You could argue that both sides fabricated some super defensive structures however, there were ample opportunities for both to create something tangible and it just seemed that there was an apprehension about how the key playmakers went about their business.

Even though Munster enjoyed more possession and more territory throughout the game, it was the visitors that made the most of their opportunities when they manifested. It also may have come across that Munster gave away far more penalties, but this was just an illusion because of where and when they infringed.

On the night, the penalty count ended up equal with Frank Murphy awarding seven apiece. However, the big difference was that Munster conceded theirs when they were either within sniffing distance of the Leinster try line or when Leinster were within kicking distance of the Munster posts.

Scoring opportunities were always going to be hard-fought for during this game however, the main reason why Leinster won was that they were just that little bit more clever.

If and when the blues did break the rules, they did so in parts of the field that were of no consequence to the scoreboard, and on the one occasion they found themselves with inches to go in order to score a five-pointer, Munster’s defenders were just far too high and front-rower Ed Byrne was able to burrow his way over.

That was, unfortunately, to be the only try on the night and after that, the entertainment value was not really worth the admission fee.

During the TV post-match interview, Johann van Graan depicted a man that was extremely irritated and frustrated at how his players performed on the night and I believe there could be no misunderstanding from the dressing down he afforded them in the moments after the final whistle.

They say it is advisable to let the dust settle before you react to certain happenings, but I believe that your first instinct is the most genuine and if people don’t like it and take it for what it reveals, then sport is not a profession they should look at to earn a crust.

One of the main reasons I was so looking forward to this game was because there were so many non-household names on display and I was really hoping that one or two of them would take the opportunity to step outside the box of conformity and make a name for themselves.

With so many of the international players being forced to sit in the stand for this game, it was an ideal opportunity for one of the younger squad members to step up to the plate, but it seemed that everyone was afraid to stray outside the playbook.

Hugo Keenan, Jimmy O’Brien and Rowan Osborne all played well for Leinster in the back division, but they wouldn’t exactly be throwing their hands up for a Champions Cup starting birth, would they?

Ross Byrne did well and made some strong-minded plays but if he has any aspirations of taking over from Johnny Sexton, he needs to be far more demanding of his forwards with regards to the quality of ball he is receiving.

You don’t have to be a dictator to be a great fly-half however, you do need to demand a certain criterion of service of those who you play with.

Otherwise, it is you as “the puller of strings” that will shoulder all the blame when things don’t work out.

Up front, Peter Dooley did all that was required of him when he replaced Ed Byrne in the front row and man of the match, number eight Caelan Doris showed up well around the park. If I was awarding the trophy it would have gone to the long-established Devin Toner.

As a man who has every right to be extremely peed off with his exclusion from Joe Schmidt’s World Cup squad, I just thought he was exactly what Leinster needed on the night.

At key moments during the game, the outstanding servant to Irish rugby was there to carry ball, win vital line-out possession and make telling tackles.

Schmidt may have got a lot correct during his time as Ireland's head man, but he 100% got it wrong when he left Toner at home.

For Munster, I don’t believe Dan Goggin is a winger and whilst he did everything that was asked of him, he is far more effective as a playmaker in the centre of the field rather than a finisher on the wing.

His appetite for work in both attack and defence is the trait that sets him apart and this was lost on Saturday night.

Nick McCarthy deputised well for the rested Conor Murray and whilst he did make the odd break, it was borne more from necessity rather than opportunity because of the lack of cover his forwards afforded him.

One player who did impress albeit, he was only given a very brief window of opportunity was UCC’s Jack O’Sullivan.

O’Sullivan who has had a few setbacks with injury seems to be the real deal and could well be the next Anthony Foley-like player to emerge.

Just remember Foley wasn’t the biggest, strongest or fastest player on the field but what he had was a rugby brain that few will ever rival, and I wouldn’t consider just anyone to fill his boots.

Hopefully, van Graan will see these qualities in him and allow the opportunity he deserves.

Next week, Munster will get an opportunity to travel away to Ulster and make up for Saturday’s wasted opportunity but they will be facing a side that seem to be ticking all the correct boxes and making all the right calls.

If van Graan is building a side with proper resilience and reactive fibres, we should see a meaningful performance emerge from Belfast.

If not, I really wouldn’t hold out much hope for the do or die game in the Champions Cup against Racing 92 the week after.

It’s great to see Munster looking to play a more expansive style however, we cannot be losing to Leinster at home.

It is just not good enough.

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