BRIDESMAIDS once again.
And it’s looking like Munster won’t be needing their wedding dress for some time to come.
This final was billed as a perfect opportunity for Munster to stem Leinster’s domination of Irish rugby. Yet when the belt was laid on the line and the bell was sounded, the team in red froze and left the ring looking punch-drunk and bewildered.
Or how long it’s been since a Munster captain had the pleasure of stepping forward to raise aloft a trophy.
It would just be a waste of space and it is long gone beyond the realms of humiliation.
On this occasion, Munster arrived at the gates of the RDS with so many reasons to produce a performance of substance. However, it would have taken a miracle of biblical proportions to even slow down this Leinster squad that can only be described as astonishing at this stage.
From the unsettling departure of CJ Stander to the return of Joey Carbery from injury, lots of people were claiming that Munster were in possession of all the inspiration they would ever need to win a trophy. There was even a part of me that had started to believe that the long wait was over and Johann van Graan’s men were capable of turning a blue tide of supremacy that has been flowing furiously for over a decade now.
Oh boy, was I wrong!
From the first minute of this final to the last second, Leinster won every single confrontation and if we are to be brutally honest, the final score does not do justice to Leinster’s complete dominance.
Were it not for two very uncharacteristic handling errors and some brave defending by Munster, this game would have been a forgone conclusion long before the halftime whistle.
To be fair, Peter O’Mahony and co did just enough in the opening 40 minutes and pressurised Leinster into throwing some inaccurate passes which kept Munster in the hunt and made the second half a watchable contest.
Just like when a tsunami hits a coastline, Munster were faced with wave after wave of blue jerseys and there was nothing they could do to repel their ferocity. No sooner had they managed to take the sting out of the first wave, the next one was in possession of the ball and the velocity it was traveling at was more powerful than the first.
Leinster’s ascendency started at the set-pieces.
Carbery might well be short of top-class game minutes after his return from injury but if he thinks he is ever going to make inroads to taking ownership of the Irish number 10 jersey, he will need a very good off-season in the gym bulking up. I would also recommend a good few one-on-one tackle sessions with someone like Josh van der Flier or Rhys Ruddock, who completely dominated their opposing numbers.
I am not sure who awarded Jack Conan the Man of the Match award because for me Ruddock was by far the stand-out player on the pitch.
Conan, like the rest of his teammates, was superb in all he did. However, I don’t think I have ever seen any player carry so much ball and make so many tackles as Ruddock did on this occasion. He was like a man possessed and this was evident by his facial expressions any time he appeared on the screen.
To single out any player in the Munster jersey for recognition on this occasion would be hard, but for the first time since he arrived on our shores, I did think that South African Jean Kleyn had a good game and was by far the best forward Munster had on display. Some of his tackles were ground-shuddering.
Keith Earls was his usual industrious self but when you find yourself behind a pack that is locked in reverse gear, there is really nothing you can do unless you find yourself at the end of a fortuitous bounce. This game was never going to be decided by a hop of a ball.
Conor Murray found himself having to make more and more cover tackles as the game went on and did not have a bad game. When he started reverting back to the kick and hope style of play with 20 minutes remaining on the clock though, you just knew that Munster’s goose was cooked.
Any loss to Leinster is very hard to stomach but because of the way Munster were toyed with on this occasion I can only imagine how desolate the dressing room felt and how quiet the bus journey down the motorway would have been.
A massive injection of funding or a complete change of infrastructure and players is the only thing that can cure Munster’s anguish now. Before that is even spoken about seriously, Van Graan has the pleasure of preparing for the arrival of French powerhouse Toulouse to Thomond Park next week.
It’s like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.