FOR those of you pondering why Munster have remained trophy-less for over a decade, I think Saturday’s performance against Connacht and the previous week’s game against Scarlets sum up their trials and tribulations perfectly.
They go from producing a blistering display of all-conquering rugby one week to one of fumbling and amateurish calamities the next.
I know Thomond Park is famed for producing victories of unprecedented valour but how Peter O’Mahony and his fellow players managed to eke out a win against a spirited Connacht side is a bit of a mystery.
There are only two ways you can win trophies in a professional environment and neither of them are easy to come by.
The first just requires a bucket-load of cash where you purchase your way to the podium just like Toulon, Saracens, and Toulouse have done throughout the ages. The second requires a bit more sweat and tears and Leinster offers us the best example of this.
For the lads from D4 to have been crowned European Cup champions on four occasions took patience, guile, a solid foundation that was and still is derived from their school’s system, and most importantly, they never wavered far from the structure that they still use to demolish their opponents today.
Munster, on the other hand, seem to be lost somewhere between trying to play a brand of rugby that the modern game petitions and their old traditional style which brought them so much success in the 90s and the noughties.
The problem here is that both versions of the game are fairly well removed from each other and Munster simply do not have the firepower or skill set to harmonise both.
Munster’s line-out on Saturday could be likened to a bunch of players who only got together that day and had 15 minutes to prepare. Between over-throws, under-throws, timing issues, and players getting calls mixed up, they must have squandered at least five point-scoring opportunities and against the better teams, this is a mortal sin.
Great sides never leave their opponents 22 unless they do so with three, five, or seven points and this is simply not happening for Johann van Graan and his players. The Reds’ attacking backline was far too flat and offered nothing that Connacht’s defence couldn’t easily handle.
Joey Carbery showed very little of the commanding qualities that a world-class fly-half requires and his opposite number Jack Carty will have given the watching Andy Farrell much to ponder over with his Man of the Match display.
Ever since Ronan O’Gara hung up his boots and travelled to distant pastures to expand his rugby knowledge, Munster have failed to unearth a worthy predecessor to fill his jersey and, for me, Carbery isn’t the answer either.
At 25 years of age, the former Leinster player is still learning, however, if you were to compare all he offers to a 25-year-old Johnny Sexton or O’Gara you will find very few similarities and if Munster are ever going to clamber their way back to the summit of European magnificence, they will need a world-class 10 to hold their hand.
Perhaps Ben Healy might be the man for the job, but unless van Graan gives him a sustained term in the driving seat we will never find out.
Local derbies are great for distinguishing the men from the boys and I must admit I was disappointed with Gavin Coombes in this game.
Lauded as the next Peter O’Mahony or Anthony Foley, Coombes has a long way to go to emulate either of these players and will need to realise that there is a lot more to the game than just scoring tries. In order to become a great, there are times when you must stand up and take control of the direst of situations.
Saturday’s game was crying out for someone like Coombes to take the next step in his evolution, but he almost looked shell-shocked at what was evolving around him.
Chris Cloete was by far Munster’s best player on the night and were it not for his courageous acts of thievery at the breakdown there is no way Munster could have gone on to win. Cloete became the ultimate pain in the ass for Connacht to deal with and he gave Munster countless lifelines just when they needed them the most.
I am a firm believer that winning is a habit and it’s great that Munster have now won four on the bounce. However, Connacht are far from a top-class outfit, and this must be taken into consideration.
Munster’s next four games are all away from home and it will be very interesting to see where they stand when these ties are completed because they are still a long way off from where they need to be in order to win silverware.