Flannery's ghost looms large as Reds struggle out of touch
Published 12/01/2013 | 05:00
MUNSTER'S line-out continues to be haunted by the ghost of players past. Well, by one player in particular, Jerry Flannery.
It is patently unfair for all those who have assumed the hooker's shirt in his stead that they are judged against a player who, at his pomp, was widely regarded as the best in the world at what he did.
Flannery was as accurate as William Tell out of touch, especially when aiming at Paul O'Connell.
Munster lost seven line-outs against Cardiff last Saturday. Not all were as a result of poor accuracy from the hooker – there were some butchered calls and lifts made in the line – yet accuracy from the touchline has been an issue this season and it is not a new concern. The line-out was also a problem under the previous regime.
Former forwards' coach Laurie Fisher also believes that the injuries suffered by Flannery were crucial.
"After my first season (2008/09), Jerry Flannery played very little rugby. His injuries started before the Lions Tour and he was never fully right from then on," said Fisher. "To this day, good as the two hookers are now, the consistency of Jerry's throwing isn't there. Neither did it help that after the Lions season (2009), Paulie (O'Connell) didn't play that much footy. We lost the two guys who were the heart and soul of that line-out."
It is common practice for the hooker to get the blame when a line-out malfunctions, but there are many working parts to a successful set-piece.
It does hinge on the hooker's throw. But what is often overlooked is that not only is he throwing to an imaginary spot in mid-air, but he has also to time it perfectly so the ball arrives at the exact moment the jumper reaches the apex of his leap.
Even if he gets his part in the move perfect, the success of the line-out is reliant on the jumper understanding the call, his lifter understanding the instruction and all getting their timing in sync.
Munster have to get their line-out perfect tomorrow and they have to be able to put Edinburgh under pressure on their darts.
But, as Donncha O'Callaghan (below) emphasised, they have to be dominant on their throw, if they are to bring their backs into the game.
"We know our backs are going real well on strike phase one or the initial burst and they've been getting across the gainline, but not to give them that chance, it's been disappointing," said O'Callaghan.
"But it's something we have to have this week, they need quality ball to get us over the gainline."
The importance of the line-out is, according to O'Callaghan, has risen in the modern game because of the uncertainty over different referees' interpretations of the rules at scrum time.
"If you chat to a lot of our attack coaches they will tell you that the scrum is not your main source of launching good attack because of the way it's refereed. The way the scrum (laws) have been going for the last year or so, the line-out is really your only platform, so when you're not giving backs ball from that, it's disappointing to us forwards and something we have to rectify."
The optimum return from a team is around 88pc on their own throw. Last weekend Munster's return was well below 50pc.
Of the Irish qualified hookers it is noticeable that Ulster's Rory Best is the most consistent. Like Flannery, he is a perfectionist and has a dedicated space for practicing his throws at his home.
It is, perhaps, unfair to judge Munster's current hookers against the excellence of Flannery, but if the team are to evolve and get their backs running with ball-in-hand more, they have to ensure they have the platform.
And that starts with being more accurate out of touch.