Saturday 21 October 2017

Alan Quinlan: Money always talks but Leinster and Munster prove that passion counts too

Munster's CJ Stander. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Munster's CJ Stander. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Alan Quinlan

Cast your mind back to last season when there was a lot of panic throughout the country that money was taking over European rugby.

Here in Ireland, we felt that we were going to be left behind but Leinster and Munster's brilliant victories over the weekend proved that while money does talk, it is not the be all and all. We went through a bit of a transitional period in both provinces and it was always going to take a bit of time to come out the other side.

Munster and Leinster supporters rightly have very high standards for their teams and that comes on the back of the success that both have enjoyed down through the years.

The salaries that the Toulouse and Wasps players are on would far exceed what the majority of Irish guys are earning and while having a healthy bank balance is nice, it's impossible to buy that hunger and relentless desire to win.

Toulouse are a proud club with a rich history but looking at the body language of some of the players at Thomond Park, you were left wondering how much it actually meant to them. They were labouring around the pitch and when you consider that Census Johnston is going to Racing and Yacouba Camara is off to Montpellier at the end of the season, they are not shy in jumping ship.

You compare that to the passion that CJ Stander showed after he scored his try and the same can be said for Robbie Henshaw and Fergus McFadden. The passion was written all over their faces.

There is a fine line between signing a load of superstars and getting that work ethic needed to compete at the highest level. Getting that balance right isn't always easy when you're recruiting.

Toulon showed in recent years that you can buy success but invariably it doesn't last and Leinster and Munster have earned their place back at Europe's top table. It doesn't mean that everything is perfect in Ireland but it just goes to show that the systems that are in place are working. We saw it throughout the Six Nations but the fitness and conditioning of the Irish players is incredible. Toulouse didn't look fit on Saturday which was shocking.

You couldn't say the same about Wasps but they just weren't good enough. It's as simple as that but the money they have thrown at their squad should have meant that they posed a much stronger challenge than what we saw.

Both Toulouse and Wasps struggled to live with the intensity of Munster and Leinster. So much of that is down to the work that is done behind the scenes, particularly in pre-season.

Almost selling out both Thomond Park and the Aviva is no mean feat either and again, it just goes to show the passion that Irish people have for this competition.

It was the same when we played Biarritz in the Heineken Cup final in 2006; one of the big focal points was how much it meant to us and our supporters.

You want that close bond with your fans and that applies to every sport and this season has definitely reconnected that in Munster. It makes a huge difference. Thomond Park on Saturday felt like the glory days of old and even though it did get a bit subdued, that was purely because the game wasn't the best.

But the build-up was electric and you can feel that buzz that wasn't there last season was back again. Munster people thrive on big European days and they'll get another day out in Dublin in three weeks.

Sport can be fickle at times and supporters do get frustrated when performances and results aren't going their side's way but it should be said that there were was a die-hard core of Munster fans who stuck by the team through thick and thin. Munster will need the same again at the Aviva against Saracens because no one is under any illusion; they are the best team in Europe.

Glasgow were poor and when you miss 34 tackles against a team like Saracens, you are asking for trouble. Munster won't be as loose especially under Jacques Nienaber who has done a terrific job. John Ryan was immense against a bruising Toulouse pack, so too was CJ Stander while the subtlety of Tyler Bleyendaal was crucial.

Whatever happens from here on in, all things considered, this has been a brilliant season for Munster. Having not been in the knockout stages for the last two years and to hit back and reach a semi-final is a fine achievement.

Leinster have an equally mammoth task going to Lyon to face Clermont but they will fear their trip to France. They have been there before and the fearlessness that their young guys are playing with at the moment is remarkable.

Joey Carbery typified that against Wasps with a brilliant display but the likes of Dan Leavy, Jack Conan, Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose are starting to put their stamp on this Leinster team.

When you consider that when Leinster were beaten 33-6 at home to Wasps last season, there were only five surviving starters in the team on Saturday - that is an incredible turnaround.

The dream all-Ireland final is very much on and while it will be difficult for both, momentum is firmly behind them and, as we saw over the weekend, that counts for a lot in Europe's knockout stages.

Irish Independent

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