News Billy Keane

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Yellow a crucial colour if living beauty of the Red maul is to flourish

Published 11/01/2014 | 02:30

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Ulster used the corset tackle to beat Munster last week when referee Alain Rolland had an off day

We'll have the full story by about 8.00 this evening. If Munster win against Gloucester, then sandpaper chins of the men of the south will be lathered for the late Saturday shave and the women will harness the donkey to pull in corset-tightening strings after the Christmas feastings.

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Going out is the new staying in. Many of you will go to the local pub to watch the match. Here's hoping pubs don't go the way of the corsets. There was a time when the corset was worn by millions of women. And yes we were only joking about Munster women needing corsets. Sure aren't their kettle bells constantly on the boil.

The corset was a cloth and whale bone waistband used to keep in the bulge by tying it up. In later times, the waist underwear was strengthened by knicker elastic. I am told by the town elders it was impossible to get into or out of a corset.

The corset tackle is known to some of you as the choke tackle, which is the misleading term used to describe when a player is held by the opposition in an upright position and is unable to fall down or release the ball. If you choke players it's a penalty or a spell in The Joy, so why then do we call it the choke tackle.

Ulster used the corset tackle to beat Munster last week when referee Alain Rolland had an off day. Ulster had a big win, but there was enough in Munster's second-half performance to suggest there is hope for us against Gloucester.

The Northern line rolling maul was unstoppable against Ulster. The work of Anthony Foley was stamped all over the convoy. Munster will need the referees to hand out yellow cards when the maul is illegally stopped on the way to a try.

Rolland failed somewhat in this regard and if Munster are to win, the referee must apply the rules. There seems to be some sort of a bias against the rolling maul. For a while our southern rugby heritage was even banned by penal laws as being all brawn and no brains.

There are those of us, though, who see the rolling maul as a work of living art, an installation, with drivers at the front and at the back of the train. The driver at the front is usually Paul O'Connell and he sets the tempo and direction. There are instructions coming from the rear all the while as the last player can look up without having his head torn off. The secret to the successful rolling maul is communication. The driver at the back keeps the ball safe and sometimes he transfers it secretly to another player while still pretending to hold possession in much the same way shady bankers operate off-shore accounts.

The opposition cannot see the sleight of hand as their vision is blocked off by the Munster forwards. If they pop round the back for a peep, then it's a penalty. The rolling maul must be held together as one and so needs a unity of purpose and a cohesiveness only attained by experience and constant practice. Every step is cheered. Every metre made gets the fans into a frenzy. The effect on the opposition morale must not be underestimated. Tug-of-war is one of the few sports where the winners win going backwards. Forwards hate ending up on their backsides.

Then, near the line, Paul might veer slightly to the left, taking his pack with him. The opposition are usually fooled by the change in the point of attack and commit all their players to the new front, thereby leaving a gap on the right. The smuggled ball is in the hands of a secret player and the Houdini crashes over for a beautifully executed try. The rolling maul must be recognised for what it is. An orchestration of beauty, power, communication and illusion. Give me the rolling maul any day over a mere passing try.

EFFECTIVE

That is not to say Munster are not capable of running with the ball. Here's a stat that you would never have thought possible. Munster pass the ball more than any other team in the Heineken Cup with 163 passes per match. Our fans have been critical of the fact Munster pass too much at times when a direct approach would be more effective, particularly in the rain.

There is some truth in this, but if Munster are to progress they need to be able to mix it up. The secret is in getting the balance right. There is a safety net for all the passing. Munster's ball retention after taking the ball into the tackle at the breakdown is better than any other team in the competition. Munster now have a Plan B.

Gloucester are five points behind Munster. A bonus-point would see us needing a win over Edinburgh at home to go through to the quarter- finals. It's all about getting a home quarter-final. Munster beat Harlequins away last season, but home is the place to be.

It has been some time now since Munster sent a big crowd overseas, but sources close to the fans tell us the team will be very well supported in Kingsholm. Is the recession easing a bit?

For this reason and the fact that the younger lads are ravenous for a heritage win in the Heineken Cup, we will go for a Munster victory.

Irish Independent

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