Munster only lie down when they go to bed
Published 15/01/2011 | 05:00
Munster, we are told, are as worn out as the doormat of the dole office. Toulon have Felipe Contepomi and Jonny Wilkinson, supreme playmakers, a big tough pack full of internationals and a relatively injury-free squad to pick from. The French play at home and the French love playing at home.
Paul O'Connell was in the bold corner and even though he's back again for selection, Paul needs games.
Poor Jerry Flannery wishes he could somehow get through an extended injury-free run. At his best, Flannery is up there with the best in the world.
Munster have had a player binned in almost every game this year. The runners-up spot in their group will not see them go through as a fastest loser. They were very lucky to escape at home in their last Magner's League game. The most fervent and blinkered Munster supporters admit the team is not playing well. The massive away support may not travel due to an absence of funds, which never really bothered Munster in the past.
All that had to be done was to increase the credit card limit or 'exploit the equity' in the doghouse you would inevitably find yourself in after three or four days of a binge in France.
Will we phone up, blame the roads and give the French the points? Will we what? Munster only lie down when they go to bed.
Our late history teacher, John Molyneaux Jnr, helped us remember our geography with this aide memoire: "Two cities in France lads, Toulon and Toulouse, like a sailor's trousers."
For sure Paul Galvin wouldn't be seen dead in such roomy pants.
And as the greatest linkman of them all, Con Houlihan, used to write 'and therein hangs a tale'.
Put simply, Toulouse are the aristocrats of French rugby. Toulon want to be Toulouse. And in a country with some history when it comes to changing the old guard, Toulon have not so much stormed the Bastille as try to buy it. There can be little doubt but that if you throw enough money into a team they will inevitably become championship contenders. Money talks, but it don't sing and dance.
Alex Ferguson, generally speaking, buys young players. The plan is knock a few good years out of them and then sell them on when he feels the laws of diminishing returns come into play. There was no way Ferguson was going to hang on to Ronaldo. The so-called best player in the world broke scoring records but he hardly ever tackled anyone and in his contribution to team play was based solely on spectacular interventions.
There is a different ethic at play in rugby when it comes to big-money signings. Firstly the big rugby pay packets of 400 grand a year is barely a fortnight's wages for a soccer player.
Secondly I have long believed that there are hiding places on a soccer field. The pitch may be cropped as tight as a number one haircut but players can still hide out in the long grass. Ronaldo didn't have to tackle because the team did it for him. In rugby your team-mates will excuse a missed tackle, but only if you are caught out by a moment of sublime skill. The biggest stars will soon be out of work if they fail to tackle.
Wilkinson and Contepomi are players with a huge commitment to getting stuck in. Neither player sees their stay in Toulon as a voluntary contribution to their pension fund. They are proud and moral men who are there to win titles.
Toulouse are the team that has bought into Europe more than any other but one wonders if the Heineken Cup means as much to Toulon. Wilkinson, we would guess, is no Euro-sceptic.
There can be little doubt but that Dr Contepomi would gladly insert the rugby scalpel in Munster, and O'Gara in particular. The two didn't shake hands after the Ireland-Argentina game in November. There's a feud for sure but that's just personal. We doubt if the Argentinean can persuade the rest of Toulon to escalate the conflict.
Jonny and Felipe may be Toulon's weakest links. They are still players of the highest quality and both will see action during the World Cup. You can build muscle and improve technique, but you can't replace pace. Jonny and Felipe are short in this department.
The Munster backline can cause endless bother, but only if we get the ball. If Munster lose the line-out then it's all over and we might have some difficulties here. The much-criticised scrum should front up tomorrow. The Munster scrum always does well when least expected. It comes down to a question of pride and not wanting to let your pals down.
Munster need a miracle for sure but it's a minor one. Toulon are hot favourites but I think this one is 50:50. Munster hammered Toulon in Thomond just a few months back.
For 10 years this team have defied the laws of logic, physics and especially punditry.
These next few lines take us away from the safety of sport where we can come up with answers and conclusions.
The tragic death of Michaela was the worst possible news. I was on 'Up for the Match' with Michaela and Daithi O Se just a few years back. She was a dote, so intelligent and caring. Tyrone goalie John Devine lost his father just a few hours previously and Michaela mentioned his passing in a dignified manner on what was essentially a light entertainment show. And she was so beautiful.
Kerry and Tyrone were the fiercest of rivals but this terrible news has all of Kerry at one with all of Tyrone. Our hearts go out to Michaela's family. I don't really have any words to ease your pain. We will say our prayers. All we can do is say our prayers.