David Corkery on rugby: There must be a better way to decide a huge game than penalties

Munster left it all out there in the Aviva on Saturday but were still beaten by Toulouse in the cruellest of circumstances
David Corkery on rugby: There must be a better way to decide a huge game than penalties

Munster's Alex Kendellen, Simon Zebo and Thomas Aherne after the loss. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

ONE hundred minutes of unyielding and absolute effort and your reward is to helplessly watch your teammates being put forward to carry the weight of your fortunes on their shoulders.

What a joke!

I guess the rules are the rules, but surely there must be a better way to divorce two teams who have given every last ounce of effort to the cause?

While I absolutely despise losing, I find it far easier to cope with it when the outcomes are defined by the sword I wield myself. My heart goes out to Conor Murray and Ben Healy but it’s the players who had to helplessly watch on that I feel the most for.

What happened on Saturday evening in the Aviva was a very rare occurrence in rugby and even if some view it as a novelty and great for the viewing figures, I would rather the winner was decided by the toss of a coin.

All I can say is that nobody deserved to lose, but there has to be a winner and kicking penalties is the format that those who make the rules have agreed upon.

Munster's Stephen Archer and Niall Scannell at the scrum against Toulouse. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady
Munster's Stephen Archer and Niall Scannell at the scrum against Toulouse. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady

These are the kind of games that Munster live and die for and on this occasion, they returned to their dressing room with their heads looking at the ground. Maybe just maybe, the tide of dismay and gloom is starting to turn for them though.

After 11 years of trophyless discontent and suffering, this team are starting to play the kind of rugby that the modern rules demand and if they held on to the ball instead of kicking it away on numerous occasions, I truly believe that Munster would be preparing for a European Cup semi-final.

Maybe it is just coincidental that Munster’s best performances have come to pass since it was announced that Graham Rowntree would be assuming the role as the province's new head coach.

Or maybe it’s taking this long for the Johann van Graan game plan to bear its fruits? Whatever has happened over the last few months, Peter O’Mahony and his players have found something that allows them move beyond the third gear that has stripped much of the respect that the province of Munster has earned over the decades.

Because of the power Toulouse possessed on their bench, this game was always going to come down to the last 20 minutes.

While the Munster shoulders somehow managed to halt the advances of the juggernaut like players who the French launched from the sideline, had Munster made the most of their possession in Toulouse’s 22, this game would not have had to go to extra time or on to penalties.

When South Africa’s World Cup-winning centre Damian de Allende arrived in Limerick at the reported cost of €500,000 per season, it was assumed that a player with this kind of price tag and experience would transform a backline that was screaming for leadership and direction.

Unfortunately, the 30-year-old has not delivered ever since he arrived and whilst it gives me no pleasure in signalling out any individuals at times when no one could have tried harder, de Allende will look back at this game and will rue the decisions he made when Munster found residency in Toulouse’s 22.

Munster are not a side who have the ability to score after one, two or even three phases of play however, what they are great at is breaking sides down and grinding out scores. So when de Allende opted on two occasions to kick away possess with the reigning champions' try line within sniffing distance, I think everyone watching would have been scratching their heads or shouting abuse.

LEADERSHIP

The other player who must also come in for some criticism is Joey Carbery. Carbery is a good player but not a great one.

When you are tasked with wearing the number 10 jersey for Munster, the job description is very complicated and asks so much more than any other club.

Apart from the two very kickable penalties that Carbery missed he offered nothing in terms of ingenuity or leadership throughout the game and when he was moved to full back to make way for Ben Healy, it screamed that his coaches had no faith in him to guide his fellow players to the promised land.

Imagine Declan Kidney moving Ronan O’Gara to full-back in a game of this importance. First of all, Kidney wouldn’t be so stupid and secondly, O’Gara would have refused.

The loss of Peter O’Mahony in the second half was a big factor but O’Mahony cannot carry the team on his own and there is only so much punishment that the human body can take.

Leaving the field with his shoulder resembling a rubber prosthetic after being run over by a train, it is looking more and more likely that this iconic figure of Munster will go through his entire senior rugby career never to have won a trophy.

This game was Van Graan’s last opportunity to leave Ireland with his reputation enhanced and whilst there is still the United Rugby Championship to play for, Munster cannot be judged on second-tier competitions if they are ever going to reach the Everest of Europe again.

At this point all we can hope for is that the efforts we witnessed on Saturday become the benchmark for Munster going forward.

And that Graham Rowntree builds around him a coaching team that truly understands the values of what Munster stand for.

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