Saturday 10 December 2016

Neil Francis: Leinster v Munster 'travesty' a shambolic state of affairs

Leinster leading Pro12 pack with this stuttering outfit highlights falling standards in the league

Published 03/04/2016 | 16:00

Dave O’Callaghan and Robin Copeland get to grips with Leinster’s Rhys Ruddock during the Pro12 clash in the Aviva Stadium last night. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile
Dave O’Callaghan and Robin Copeland get to grips with Leinster’s Rhys Ruddock during the Pro12 clash in the Aviva Stadium last night. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile

In the 59th minute of yesterday's "El Classico" Mike Ross and Ross Molony were on the touchline preparing to come into the action. The only thought that came to my mind was where is Ross O'Carroll Kelly?

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This was a travesty of a game, a contest that promised so much but served up a shambles. The stunted ambition, the limited range, the poverty of thought and the tactical inadequacy.

Both sets of players in the lead up to this game would have gone through their drills and strategies in preparation for what was to come yesterday - at the very least a display of practised competence.

The paying customer got withering ineptitude and a game so shockingly poor that you would wonder why you watch it any more. I do not care about bragging rights or the heritage of this derby game. If they serve up this crap then people will simply not turn up to watch it.

There are 100 ways to win a game. Leinster to my mind had all the angles and yet chose to play the way they did. Munster's competitive zeal and a provocative performance at the breakdown kept them in this graceless game but in truth Leinster should have walked away with this one untroubled and far removed from the final denouement when the men in red were camped on their line.

The referee, Mr Ian Davies, would want to reflect on his performance. He made serious errors which effected both sides and as the heat turned up and the intensity of the match was brought to its fullest, the more uncertain he was in his decision-making. Both teams can quibble with him.

Sean Cronin is a super bit of stuff but yet again he will have to take a long hard look at himself. Primary duties must be performed to an adequate standard. Cronin would be an outside chance for the Lions next season but his darts are so shockingly inconsistent you would wonder why he hasn't taken remedial and permanent action to fix this glaring deficit in his game.

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Three or four times in positions of real advantage Leinster just simply handed the ball over to Munster at lineout time. Some of those five-yard concessions just take the wind out of the sails. Even ball that was won was thrown so badly that Leinster had to win it and re-win it. If Leinster have aspirations about winning this title and getting a favourable seeding they are going to have to fix their lineout.

Leinster will also have to start scoring tries. One try in 240 minutes of rugby is just unacceptable. It is true that yesterday Munster managed to slow an awful lot of Leinster ball and a lot of what Leinster tried to do was off slow ball with a full compliment of Munster defenders. I still wonder late at night why Leinster have re-signed Zane Kirchener.

Leinster's try came as one would expect from a moment of opportunity from Johnny Sexton. He still had gas and he was quick enough to spot it first of all and beat Francis Saili's tackle to get over via the posts.

Leinster should have kicked on in the last few minutes after Johnny Holland put the ball directly into touch and Munster were lucky that they did not get another player in the bin as Tommy O'Donnell and James Cronin gratuitously killed the ball and Leinster went looking for the line again.

Simon Zebo also did well to stay on the field after slapping the ball into touch, and Francis Saili who might have walked after kicking the ball out of the back of a ruck in the 50th minute.

It was Leinster who rode their luck in the last 20 as they simply sat back and let Munster come at them with a massive buffer of three points separating them. A compendium of mistakes, ill discipline and basic handling errors compounded their mental fall-off.

Leinster were pinged for pushing before the ball came in at scrum time and Cian Healy should really reconsider what he is actually doing from now on with a no-hands chop tackle when Leinster needed their experienced players to be calm.

Munster's ambition in the last few minutes was tempered slightly by the fact that they had very little confidence in Ian Keatley's kicking and that, more than anything else, decided that they would kick for the lineout maul for the win instead of attempting to kick for the draw.

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As Munster went through the phases Leinster inevitably gave away another needless penalty and the moment of the match arrived.

Ten metres to the left of the post, the penalty was a guaranteed two points but Dave Kilcoyne tapped and went. The execution of the tap maybe influenced by a bit of white-line fever might have been the difference between Kilcoyne getting right to the line. He has been scoring tries for fun recently and knows exactly where the try line is but loosehead props tapping it themselves five metres from the line - there was always going to be a skills' deficit.

Leinster were onside when they made their tackles and here Ben Te'o did very well with his first-up tackle. He then made another tackle on the supporting Mike Sherry who knocked the ball on and the game was up.

Not even Leinster could mess this one up but you were never sure.

Munster are now in real trouble. You would bet on them, though, finding a way to qualify for Europe but now even Edinburgh are in on the game and nothing will come easy in the run-in.

Leinster? It says a lot about the standard of the Pro12 that a stuttering, non-functioning side, who have completely lost their identity, are top of the heap.

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