Analysis: Munster at a crossroads after a losing a game they should have won

David Corkery breaks down an epic Champions Cup battle at Thomond Park
Analysis: Munster at a crossroads after a losing a game they should have won

Munster's CJ Stander, Billy Holland and JJ Hanrahan dejected after the loss to Toulouse. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

THE effort was valiant and the performance was befitting of the jersey, but when will Munster ever learn that kicking away the ball is not the answer?

Considering the manner in which they capitulated last week against Leinster, most supporters will just be happy that an improved team turned up. However, good performances and acts of valour are not what Munster rugby should be about.

This home European Cup quarter-final presented Johan van Graan and his players the ideal opportunity to answer a few of their critics. And let there be little doubt about it if they had opted to use the possession they had in a more positive way they could have easily returned to a victorious dressing room.

When Munster’s backs are nailed firmly to the wall, as they were prior to the game, that is normally the time when they come out swinging and become the irresistible force that has made afforded the red jersey legendary in the world of rugby.

You can argue that the 16th man was missing on this occasion, but finals are rarely won on home soil and Munster must find a way of moving beyond the mind-games that have kept them trophyless for over a decade. 

Thomond Park is an integral part of what Munster stands for, but home advantage will not win trophies for them.

A win would have been a fitting way for Munster rugby to say farewell and thank you to CJ Stander, JJ Hanrahan and especially Billy Holland for their services. However, the fairytale was not to be and they only have themselves to blame.

As a game of rugby, it had everything.

Pace, power, skill and commitment were on display throughout. And were it not for some overuse of the boot, Munster could well have won.

There were passages in this game when some of Munster’s passing and continuity play was just brilliant, and they easily had the measure of this Toulouse side. Instead of realising this and capitalising on it, they reverted to the kick and hope style of play that has produced nothing but inconsistency and sorrow.

Gavin Coombes of Munster gave it his all at Thomond Park. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Gavin Coombes of Munster gave it his all at Thomond Park. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The evergreen Keith Earls, who crossed the try line twice in the opening half, found himself at the end of some super passages of inter passing between the forwards and the backs and it made Toulouse’s defence look completely inept when Conor Murray and Joey Carbery opted to keep hold of the ball and recycle it at speed.

South African World Cup winner Damian de Allende finally showed his true pedigree and paved the way forward for his colleagues through some powerful bursts of speed and nimble footwork. The same however cannot be said of Joey Carbery who has some serious questions to answer before he even thinks about donning an Irish jersey again.

Back from a very unlucky string of injuries, Carbery must first prove he is worthy of commanding the Munster number 10 jersey and at the moment he is miles off where he needs to be. 

Last week he found himself targeted as a flimsy frontline defender and missed four crucial tackles before he was hauled ashore. This week’s performance wasn’t a whole pile better and once again he found himself getting sat back on his arse on a few occasions despite his coaches’ best efforts to hide him on the extremities of the field during broken play. 

He also missed two vital kicks albeit they were in difficult positions of the field.

Such is Munster’s standing in the game, Carbery, who I would view as a project player, is not what they need and instead of spending a vast amount of cash on another South African wrecking ball, they should be looking at a fly-half of substance who is established and feared.

Aside from a few wayward lineouts, the Munster forwards played well. You can argue that they never dominated their opponents like days of old, but they certainly gave their backs enough ball to win any amount of games.

Opposing Murray and Carbery were French internationals Romain Ntamack (21) and his partner in crime Antoine Dupont (24), who seemed to play the game as if they were having a genteel stroll down the Champs-Elysées in Paris. 

Antoine Dupont of Toulouse scores his side's third try. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Antoine Dupont of Toulouse scores his side's third try. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Neither of them found themselves come under any pressure and Ntamack ruled Thomand Park as if he owned the place.

The future of this Munster squad clearly now lies within the hands of the younger generation and unless van Graan and his coaching ticket realises this, their tenure at the helm will be brief and fruitless.

It has been yet another year of learning for Munster and we are all beginning to wonder will the unproductive harvests ever end? And more importantly will the lessons of the years gone by ever be realised, dissected and acted upon in a productive fashion?

I guess next season will tell all, but for now, I must end this article with a very special mention towards Billy Holland and the service he has afforded Munster rugby.

A gentleman and a scholar of the game and most importantly someone who has the respect of every single player he ever played with.

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