BEFORE we get down to the nuts and bolts of tomorrow’s Champions Cup clash between Exeter and Munster, I thought I’d mention the enforced retirement of Leinster’s Dan Leavy because of injury.
The reason I mention him is I was the same age as Dan when I was forced to hang up my boots and I believe there are many similarities.
Twenty-seven is there or thereabouts the age that your career should be reaching its pinnacle and while Dan probably had more skill on his left-hand baby finger than I had in my entire body, we both played in the same position, and both liked to partake in the physical aspects of the game.
Thankfully, the systems, structures and support mechanisms in place today are far more robust and understanding of a professional rugby player than just receiving a letter from the IRFU saying, thanks for your efforts and all the best in the future.
Hopefully, Dan will find solace somewhere outside the sport that he gave so much to, but I can 100% guarantee you that he will have some very dark and sad days reflecting on what might have been. Dan isn’t the first and won’t be the last to retire at a young age, but I really wish him all the best.
Now, back to tomorrow’s game and the importance of Munster producing a display of grit and substance.
At this point, I am not going to point the finger of blame at any individual for Munster not having to open the trophy cabinet for 11 years, however, what I am going to do is call upon the players to take matters into their own hands and play a style of rugby that suits them.
When I see Peter O’Mahony standing out on the wing waiting for the ball to come to him I cringe and wonder what must be going through his mind.
Peter O’Mahony wasn’t designed to play rugby on the wing.
O’Mahony was designed to be stuck in the middle of every ruck, maul and breakdown the game has to offer and if Johann van Graan thinks for one minute that Munster will benefit from keeping a player of O’Mahony’s tenacity as far away from the ball as possible, I must question the man’s sanity.
The other player who has had his status marred by his instructions on how the game must be played is Conor Murray.
When Murray first broke into the Munster team he was as good as another wing forward when his team were defending and as lethal as a top try poaching centre when the whitewash was within sniffing distance.
I can’t recall the number of times Murray was at hand to make a last-minute gasping cover tackle when all hope was lost, but that gusto now seems to be gone and in its place lies a very programmed individual that seems to have all his natural rugby brilliance coached out of him.
What we need to see tomorrow and for the remainder of the season is a Conor Murray that isn’t afraid to take risks and mix his distributing and box-kicking capabilities with his old-school sniping prowess in and around the breakdown.
Last week Munster were taught a very harsh lesson by at the hands of a Leinster dynasty that will take some stopping from sweeping aside all that lies before them and the reason why this happened was because Munster spent more time worrying about their opponents than they did about themselves.
When you are facing an adversary that you are fearful of, what tends to happen is that you forget about all the good things that make your side the side it is, and all your efforts and focus get dazzled like rabbits caught in the lights of a speeding juggernaut.
There were passages in that game where Munster looked as if they had the equal of the men in blue however, it was their basic errors that allowed Leo Cullen’s players to grasp the game with both hands and the longer the game went on, the more Munster started to panic.
If Munster are going to have any hope of finishing this season anywhere close to participating in a final, they must all rip up the game plan that has yielded nothing but criticism and they must look to regain the kind of ruthless efforts that saw them almost completely irradicate the basic errors that teams like Leinster and Exeter feed off.
The news that Tadhg Beirne, Dave Kilcoyne, and Gavin Coombes are not available must not give Munster any excuse for not playing well because one man’s misfortune is another man’s gain and I’d fully expect their replacements to grasp their opportunity by the horns and give this exciting Exeter side one hell of a fight.
The days for excuses are long gone for this squad of players and, as I suggested above, if they are not prepared to commence some kind of rebellion against the systems that have lost them so much respect, they will have no one to blame apart from the man they see in the mirror.