Wednesday 28 June 2017

Munster warhorse not ready for glue factory just yet

EULOGIES -- the practice of paying tribute to the deceased -- are frequently misapplied, as was the case last week when Sadlers Wells passed on.

Apparently, he was some nag which was a big hit in the 1980s and then retired to a life of eating, drinking and carousing with a succession of fine fillies (a bit like Mick Hucknell). A top stallion, whose children went on to enjoy their own successes on the racetrack, but, even so, some of the coverage of his death was laughable.

We were told how "just like sands in an hour glass", this "icon" had "died of natural causes" and had "passed away peacefully" at Coolmore Stud.

Jesus wept ... it's a horse, lads. The slow nags earn no such tributes, merely a quick trip to the glue factory (possibly after being used for easy revenue from gullible city boys desperate to back up their bluff by actual ownership). Bottom line -- the only reason Sadlers Wells got the 'Princess Di' treatment was because he made a lot of people a lot of money -- the essence of horseracing.

This week, we have had misapplied eulogies aimed in Munster's direction following their second European exit of the year, against Harlequins last Saturday. The sight of Munster fans leaving Thomond Park early is an extremely unusual one and evidence of the extent of the horror show played out before them.

Speaking to former club players and coaches this week -- men who know Munster rugby inside out and pre-date the more recently acquired shiny jersey brigade -- emphasised the sense of despair.

Unaccustomed to walking out of Thomond Park after defeat, the disappointment was compounded by the absence of what were once Munster staples -- a strong scrum, a solid line-out, directness in attack, and aggression in contact.

However, some of the reaction has been way off beam. It is far from a case of 'Munster Rugby RIP', as some would have it. But supporters do have to accept the reality that Leinster have moved ahead and then have the patience to wait for that gap to close.

Coach Tony McGahan spoke very well this week when discussing the path forward. He identified the set-pieces as a priority, accepted that the age profile of the squad was leading to an inevitable period of transition, and, most encouragingly, spoke about the importance of working on structures within the province to bring players through.

The main problem here is getting the schools on board. Already hindered by having far less feeder schools than Leinster or Ulster, Munster need to sit down with the schools and come up with a plan to maximise the quality of the production line.

Underage rugby in the clubs should not be overlooked either. From Newcastle-West to Waterpark, there are teenagers playing throughout the province that need to be scouted -- particularly any young-fellah who looks remotely like a decent tight-head prop.


These things take time, but at least the issues have been identified and as McGahan pointed out, there is no "band-aid" solution.

The Australian has done well bringing through youngsters like Mike Sherry, Ian Nagle, Conor Murray and Simon Zebo, as well as turning Damien Varley and James Coughlan into quality professionals when their chance seemed to have gone. That work will stand to Munster down the line.

In the short-term, it is Connacht's misfortune to be turning up in Thomond Park this evening, sacrificial lambs paraded before a cranky, red beast who has just stood on a thorn.

Going on to land the Magners League title would be justifiable reward for an excellent league campaign and a beacon of light for the road ahead. This process will take time and the correct application, but no more eulogies. Munster are not ready for the glue factory just yet.

Irish Independent

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