David Corkery: Gavin Coombes can become a Munster and Ireland great

'The performance from Skibbereen native was simply outstanding against Ulster'
David Corkery: Gavin Coombes can become a Munster and Ireland great

Gavin Coombes of Munster keeps the ball in play at Thomond Park. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

ANOTHER step in the right direction for the men in red.

This Rainbow Cup competition might well be a bit of a joke when it comes to substance. However, what it is offering is an opportunity for teams to tinker with their structures in a competitive environment.

The dog on the street knows the traditional Munster way of playing won't help them rekindle the glory days.

This bonus-point victory for Munster might have come courtesy of a really poor Ulster display but the way they went about dismantling their visitors was very encouraging. It seemed to be a continuation of the style they used to finally obtain a win against the boys from Leinster.

KBA are three letters that you will hear more of in the coming months: 'Keep Ball Alive'. In layman’s terms, it means coaches and players are now specifically focusing on ways of keeping the ball off the ground and active in play.

This way of playing the game is not exactly a new philosophy or something that some rugby guru came up with because the All Blacks, France, Fiji, Japan, Samoa, Tonga and other nations based south of the equator have been deploying this approach ever since William Webb Ellis first picked up a soccer ball and ran with it during a school football match in 1823. 

The reality is that the game of rugby had become something of a dull and uninteresting spectacle over the last decade. 

World Rugby faced the following situation, make the game interesting again or let the viewing numbers dwindle away, therefore reducing the attraction to the corporate world which in turn, kills off any opportunity for investment and growth.

The problem for Munster is that they remained too loyal to the tactics that brought them so much success in the Mick Galwey, Anthony Foley and Ronan O’Gara era. While others were embryonic in their ways of thinking Munster, simply became victims of their faithfulness towards their traditions.

What we saw in the victory over Leinster two weeks ago and Ulster on Friday evening was an unambiguous effort by all the players to look at every option that was open to them in order to keep the ball animated at all times.

Yes, there were a few hail Mary passes that did not work out, but overall Munster looked like a completely different outfit to the one that we saw play in the final of the Guinness Pro 14 against Leinster and in the Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulouse.

I lost count of the number of times we saw the Munster forwards take the ball into the contact zone and instead of just going to ground and presenting the ball for Conor Murray to dig out, they offloaded it to an oncoming support player, who deployed the exact same strategy when it was his turn to confront Ulster’s defence.

Munster's Rory Scannell and Michael Lowry of Ulster in action on Friday night. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Munster's Rory Scannell and Michael Lowry of Ulster in action on Friday night. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

Mike Haley might well have been furnished with the Man of the Match award however, the performance from Skibbereen native Gavin Coombes was simply outstanding.

Without wanting to diminish the contribution of CJ Stander, Coombes probably made more offloads in this game than Stander ever did in his entire career in the number eight jersey. 

Going forward if Coombes can keep his feet firmly planted on the ground, not only will he become the next legendary Munster forward, but he will also soon find himself in a green jersey.

Kudos must also be given to Conor Murray and Tadhg Beirne not only for their selection in the 2021 Lions touring party but also for how they played in the game and did not look to wrap themselves in cotton wool.

Munster captain, Peter O’Mahony seemed to have that demonic look back in his eyes and his relentless appetite for work was back at the level we come to expect from the reputation he has forged for himself.

Two wins in a Mickey Mouse competition is a far cry from lifting aloft the Champions Cup trophy, but it seems the transition might well have commenced. The important thing now is that no matter what happens, the coaching ticket remain steadfast in their attempts to move away from the kind of rugby that has yielded the province nothing but criticism and hardship over the last 10 years.

Connacht are next up in the firing line and another win would give Van Graan’s side a clean sweep against all three of Munster’s nearest and dearest rivals.

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