How much longer can Munster accept being second best to Leinster?

The Reds haven't won a major trophy since 2011 and are regularly beaten in derbies
How much longer can Munster accept being second best to Leinster?

Munster's Fineen Wycherley scuffles with Johnny Sexton of Leinster at Thomond Park. Picture: INPHO/Gary Carr

TO say that Munster hate Leinster and Leinster despise Munster might be putting it very bluntly, but I can categorically tell you that this is how it is.

Hate and despise are very strong proclamations to make in any walk of life. However, if we were privy to the pre-match dressing room speeches you would fully understand just how deep these sentiments of loathing actually are.

Maybe I need to explain this hostility a bit better and tell you that it’s not the players who hate each other, it’s the actual fixture itself and the history that goes with it that creates the animosity.

Nobody wants to be outgunned by their neighbours and the importance of winning has both players and supporters salivating.

Jonathan Sexton talks to referee Frank Murphy in 2018. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Jonathan Sexton talks to referee Frank Murphy in 2018. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

I’m sure there are a few players who might not exactly be on each other’s Facebook list of friends, but in general, both sets of players would have no issue with having a few pints with each other after the game if they were allowed.

In order to win any trophy on an international stage, you must first become kings in your own country. When Munster’s trophy cabinet was glistening with pride and bursting at the hinges, the Reds were always able to boost superiority over Leinster, Connacht and Ulster. 

Now that Leinster have assumed ownership of the Irish throne, it’s Munster’s turn to become the pretender and it’s a position they do not like.

Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Like depraved-scavengers waiting for their next meal, the rugby community and the players from Leinster and Munster have been awaiting this tie for some time now.

Anytime Munster take to the field to do battle side there is always one or two facets of the game that grab our attention in the build-up. Sometimes it’s the one-on-one battles that we are looking forward to analysing, other times it’s watching to see how the front row or back three deal with their opponents. 

When Munster clash with Leinster the interest multiplies 10-fold and every play implemented, kick deployed, tackle made or missed acts as a foundation for debate and scrutiny.

To think that Munster have failed to grind out a single victory in this fixture since December 2018 is not a great reflection on Johann van Graan and his coaching philosophies. 

The 10-year gap since Munster won anything is something that needs to be addressed very soon. 

The longer Munster go without Peter O’Mahony stepping forward to collect a piece of silverware the harder it will become for the province to clamber out of this slump.

Yes, you can argue that Leinster have overshadowed most sides in the Northern Hemisphere but that is completely irrelevant when it comes to playing in local derbies.

Ciaran Frawley of Leinster celebrates at the final whistle. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ciaran Frawley of Leinster celebrates at the final whistle. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Local derbies rarely have anything to do with past or current form, they are all about attitude and application on the day.

The attitude boils down to the individuals on the teams and whether or not they are willing to put their heads where you wouldn’t put a brick and the application is all about trusting in your fellow players' ability to do their job as efficiently as possible.

In a team sport context, you are only as strong as the player next to you and if someone makes a mess of their job, your contribution is as good as worthless. I can’t see there being more than a score between these sides when the referee sounds the final whistle and one small error of judgement or missed tackle will probably determine the winners.

Apart from a few long-term injuries in both squads the lack of games has allowed coaches rebuild their squads to almost full capacity and with Ireland due to play Wales on February 7 in the Six Nations, every player who is eligible to wear the green jersey will want to stand out.

I don’t think Munster will be making a whole pile of changes from the side that scraped home against Connacht two weeks ago, but it will be interesting to see if and when the Munster coaching ticket decides to launch some of the younger players from the bench? 

I’d be delighted to start this game with Craig Casey and Ben Healy pulling the strings at nine and ten.

Both players have more than proved they can control proceedings at this level and should be afforded the opportunity to show the Irish management that they are mature and experienced enough to take the next step in their evolution.

The problem in this country is that we are too slow to promote the next generation and too afraid to drop the established players. My philosophy is, that if you are good enough you are old enough, and unless we start rewarding players like Casey, Healy and the Wycherley brothers we will never be able to build a squad strong enough to compete with the likes of New Zealand and South Africa in a World Cup setting.

As a spectacle of running rugby and skilful plays I don’t think this game will offer us this kind of entertainment. What I do hope is that someone steps up to the plate and is not afraid to take risks. I’d rather fail courageously than be successful by staying within the box of conformity.

Both sides will have each other analysed to death and it is the team that comes up with and executes something different will be the side that emerges victorious when the 80 minutes have elapsed on the matchday clock.

I’m going to back Munster on this occasion because they need the win far more than Leinster.

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