David Corkery: Munster on track for Pro14 final as European rugby hangs by a thread

Encouraging derby win for Reds but Champions Cup set to be put on hold
David Corkery: Munster on track for Pro14 final as European rugby hangs by a thread

Munster's CJ Stander in action against Connacht. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

ON a bitterly cold night in what is normally a bleak venue to play rugby, Munster just about managed to overcome both the conditions and a good Connacht side.

The hosts were full to the brim with confidence after their heroic victory over Leinster last weekend but Munster got the job done.

For 80 minutes it wasn’t exactly a game that will be remembered for keeping us teetering on the edge of our seats but there was plenty of endeavour from both sides and Munster’s defence saw them leave the Galway Sports grounds with all the points.

Connacht will probably look back at this one as a game they could have won. However, if they take a very close look at their overall performance, they will very quickly decipher that they were second best and should be happy with their losing bonus point.

Keith Earls of Munster is tackled by Peter Sullivan of Connacht. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Keith Earls of Munster is tackled by Peter Sullivan of Connacht. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Were it not for the sin-binning of Munster substitute Rory Scannell on the 76th minute, Connacht would have never found their way over the Munster try-line. Indeed with referee Frank Murphy brandishing a second card in the 82nd minute to another Munster substitute, Connacht had a glorious opportunity to take the spoils.

Opting for a five-yard scrum, you would have placed your house on the home side outgunning the 13-man Munster defence, but somehow, they managed to spill the ball forward and that was that.

Last weekend Connacht showed the rest of Europe the blueprint for beating Leinster.

From the very first minute to the last play of that game they harassed Leo Cullen’s players and never allowed them to settle into any kind of rhythmic patterns. There were long passages in that game where the westerners were without the ball and it suited them.

Throwing caution to the wind and opting not to hold a disciplined defensive line they shot up and put immense pressure on Leinster’s first receivers and in doing so turned defence into attack which Leinster had no answer to.

On Saturday against what you would have to call a full-strength Munster team Connacht tried to adopt the same kind of in your face principles, but Munster’s first up ball carriers were just too strong and won nearly all the gain-line battles.

Connacht's Ultan Dillane and Fineen Wycherley of Munster. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Connacht's Ultan Dillane and Fineen Wycherley of Munster. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

When Connacht did manage to get their hands on the ball in advantageous areas of the field, they lacked any kind of inventiveness and Munster’s super strong defence allied by the ball steeling capabilities of CJ Stander and Tadhg Beirne just swallowed up anything that Connacht threw at them.

Weather-wise it may not have been the greatest evening to throw the ball around but aside from one or two adventurous plays by the Munster backs, you could tell that Johann van Graan’s only goal was to get out of Galway with a win.

Gone again seemed to be the willingness to play a more expansive game; the robotic box-kicking boots of Conor Murray were back in action. For long periods, we had to sit and watch both sets of back three play their own personal game of kick-tennis and the forwards were left in the middle of the field resembling groups of stargazing enthusiasts as the ball went back and forward over their heads.

It just baffles me as to why some teams spend so much time and effort trying to win the ball only to kick it away. I realise you have to put boot to ball when your try line is in danger of getting crossed but, surely coaches can come up with something better.

Ban kicking between both 22-metre lines I say, and then we would see some exciting rugby.

The personal battle between Jack Carty and JJ Hanrahan never really materialised. However, you would feel that it is Carty that is in the driving seat for a call up to the Irish squad should Andy Farrell come calling.

Hanrahan has done extremely well for Munster over the last few months and he is looking more and more comfortable in everything he does. Yet Carty can offer that little bit of X-factor which international rugby demands.

With this latest victory, Munster look almost certain to claim top spot in their conference which grants them access to the final against the winners on the other side.

At the moment, Ulster are the leaders, but Leinster have two games in hand, so you’d be foolish to think that the Grand Final will be contested by anyone else other them Munster and Leinster.

The big question now is whether or not we are going to have a European Champions Cup or Six Nations.

The governing body of French sport is recommending all clubs postpone their matches.

In a statement sent on Saturday the sports ministry said: “the French Government is moving, in the short term, towards the adoption of measures to restrict or even prohibit the participation of French team sports clubs in (rugby) matches including teams from the United Kingdom”. 

This would almost put an immediate end to the Champions Cup and because of a domino effect caused by these potential cancellations could very well impact next month’s Six Nations and the entire rugby schedule in 2021.

Let's hope and pray that this doesn’t happen.

The world is bad enough as it is without rugby.

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