THIS game was never just about the league points on offer.
Don’t be fooled by those who say it was.
If I were a betting man, of which I’m not, I’d be happy to put my house on the line and state that at this point of the season both Munster and Leinster will top their respective pools and there is zero chance of either side missing out on the knockout stages.
On paper Leinster look the more vulnerable as they occupy second birth in pool A, however, with a game in hand over Ulster, they will soon return to the top of their pool.
So, if this was the case why was there so much fuss about this game? This game was billed as the one where Munster would win and place their feet on the first rung of the ladder that was going to take them back to becoming kings of Irish rugby again.
A position they so sadly surrendered to Leinster over a decade ago.
It was expected that Munster’s recent winning form would just continue and that Leinster would facilitate them by rolling over to have their bellies tickled.
The problem here is that nobody informed Leinster that this is how the game was to pan out and when you have a culture that revolves around the highest level of performance and discipline, losing never enters the equation.
The majority of people who will have watched this game will turn to the two missed kicks by Munster fly-half JJ Hanrahan and look to point the finger of blame directly at him.
Yes, any side who aspires to topple one of the greatest establishments of the professional rugby era must take every single opportunity that is afforded them.
While Hanrahan’s first missed kick was unlucky, the second one was just a complete lack of concentration.
Nobody has a God-given right to assume anything in life. However, when a professional player misses a kick that most would nail blindfolded, it can only be put down to a lack of focus and an assumption that the points were in the bag before the ball was even struck. But I must stress that this is not the reason why Munster lost this game.
For the opening 11 minutes of this eagerly awaited tie, Munster completely dominated proceedings.
Every decision, pass, kick, line-out and scrum that transpired was executed by the home side with the highest level of accuracy and Munster squeezed every single last point that was available out of that period of the game. After Hanrahan successfully kicked the conversion from Tadhg Beirne’s try on the 11th minute, that was to be the last score that Munster would register for the remainder of the tie and this is simply not good enough.
I can’t exactly explain what happened however, it just seemed as if someone had flicked a switch and all the basic facets of rugby football that allow teams to gain possession and territory fell apart anytime Munster tried to do anything.
The Reds’ line-out completely misfired and the next three attempts to gain possession on their own throw were lost.
The scrum, which started so sprightly, lost any kind of ascendancy it had established and while it wasn’t utterly destroyed, it certainly didn’t give the Munster half-backs the kind of go-forward ball they would have liked.
Munster’s discipline also lost its way during the period between Beirne’s try and the half time whistle and whilst the total penalty count was nine to eight in favour of Munster, the penalties conceded during this time were completely needless.
I have no issues with players giving away penalties if it leads to their side gaining some kind of advantage or if it’s a matter of poor timing, but when it comes down to silly as James Cronin displayed when he gave away two if not three needless infringements that allowed Leinster claw the score back to 10-6 as they left the field for the half time break, I can only hope he was read the riot act by Johann van Graan as soon as he walked through the dressing room doors.
The second half was a bit more evenly divided, with both sides making a good few unforced errors, understandable, considering the bitterly cold conditions that had descended on the hallowed sod of Thomond Park that was to be expected.
The determining score that eventually saw the visitors beat off the pretenders to their thrown came from a beautifully executed move that allowed Jordan Larmour race over in the corner, and when Ross Byrne magnificently slotted the extra two points with 10 minutes remaining on the clock, Leinster successfully and professionally shut up shop and closed out the proceedings.
After the game, I was disappointed to hear Man of the Match, Tadgh Beirne, suggest that the throw that led to Leinster’s winning try was crooked. He is a super, honest player and it seemed as if he was looking for an excuse.
I have little doubt that Munster are heading in the right direction and their efforts on and off the pitch are arduous and unselfish but, unless they fix all the processes that go into becoming efficient and triumphant, they will never find themselves in a post-match huddle with that little bit of silverware dangling from their necks.
This was a game that Munster could have easily won but lacked the clinical ruthlessness that champions have flowing through their veins.
Next week Munster will hopefully travel to Italy to play Benetton and the likelihood is that they will be deprived of the majority of their Irish internationals because of the approaching Six Nations.
I would expect them to easily win this fixture, but as JJ Hanrahan will have learnt from this game, nothing is guaranteed. Especially in sport.