Thursday 21 September 2017

'Siege' mindset no answer to Mafi misdeeds

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

When a squad laden with talent fails to deliver there is every reason for exasperation. To that end, Leinster's form ahead of Saturday's Lansdowne Road showdown had everyone perplexed.

Well, while still far from the perfect performance, there was enough in this latest win -- making it five on the bounce over Munster -- to suggest a unit set to build and move on from here.

As a boost in confidence ahead of the Heineken Cup visit of Racing Metro to the RDS in five days' time it could hardly be better timed. For Munster, it was a night and a performance best forgotten.

They were much the more physical and the more purposeful in the opening exchanges, but for all the possession and promising field position there was little to suggest a back line capable of scoring other than by way of Ronan O'Gara's well-oiled right boot.

The days of Rua Tipoki and Lifeimi Mafi wreaking havoc in midfield seem consigned to the dim and distant past.

Much is made, understandably, of the massive void left by Paul O'Connell's absence, but the ongoing loss of Keith Earls is every bit as great.

What Mafi once was, in terms of off-the-cuff inventiveness, Earls unquestionably still is. Without him the Munster back line is bereft of guile. I have long been an admirer of Mafi's all-singing all-dancing ultra-competitive style but on Saturday the South Sea Islander disappointed me badly.

If the game and this competition is to retain any semblance of credibility, then Mafi ought to have two very serious issues of indiscipline to address. And for once may we be spared 'siege' rantings from the usual source within the Munster camp?

Two cheap shots from the Tongan could have proved costly for Gordon D'Arcy and Rob Kearney.

The straight arm, and particularly the swinging straight arm, like boot to head or finger to eye, has no part in a physical contact sport founded on the underlying principle of fair play. On the assumption the citing commissioner deems there a case to be answered can we at least seek honesty and integrity in its pursuit from all parties?

While indiscipline didn't help, in no way did Munster lose this game of their own accord.

This was by far Leinster's best performance of the season. They stepped up to the plate and met Munster where it still matters most, however much the game might change in complexion from time to time.

They were strong in the tackle on or close to the gain line. They were effective -- Devin Toner particularly -- out of touch and solid to edge it in the scrum. Furthermore they had, in Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip, the two most influential players on the field.

The replacements also worked, with Eoin Reddan and Jonathan Sexton bringing a different dynamic and a game-closing clout when and where it was clearly most needed. Unless he can shift Shane Horgan from his nailed-down slot on the right wing, it is difficult to see Isa Nacewa, for all his free-running form of late, starting against Racing Metro.

For the final half hour -- after Reddan and Sexton's arrival -- there was only one team in it. Brian O'Driscoll's try, created by Reddan and O'Brien, was no more than he and his fired-up Leinster team deserved.

Had Johne Murphy not pulled off a remarkable try-saving tackle on Luke Fitzgerald 10 minutes before, the final scoreline might well have had an even more accurate reflection.

Munster will regroup, re-energise and return to Heineken Cup action as only they can. But for Leinster this win, and the manner of it, was critical. A fourth defeat from five and they would have been in the mire.

Instead they return to training this morning with a spring in their step and the Schmidt era finally under way.

Irish Independent

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