George Hook: Munster boo-boys were aiming ire at Anthony Foley for allowing Ian Keatley to disintegrate
Published 18/12/2015 | 02:30
The sarcastic jeers that erupted around Thomond Park last Saturday night were not aimed at Ian Keatley, as he made his way towards the sideline.
There was no mistaking the noise and I am quite certain that the Munster fly-half would have heard the crowds jeers ringing over his head, but it was obvious to me where the real target of their ire lay.
Watching Keatley shrink into obscurity under the Limerick floodlights in such a crucial game made for difficult viewing and his overall performance was far from acceptable.
But I do not believe that Munster fans have reached a point where respect for their team, a trademark of their support over the years, has all of a sudden disappeared.
The jeers were not aimed at the players. As Keatley slowly disintegrated and with the head coach sitting on his hands and refusing to address the glaring problem in front of his eyes, the crowd decided to voice their dissatisfaction with Anthony Foley.
And they were perfectly entitled to do so. Every player has an off-day; it goes with the job and Munster fans recognise this. But it is the coach's job to spot when a team needs change and then to act accordingly.
On this crucial function last Saturday, Foley failed. It was just unfortunate that Keatley happened to be the fall guy for the crowd's frustration.
Watching Munster cough up easy scores in one of the poorest performances that I can recall at Thomond Park, one had to wonder what was going through the players' heads.
In times past, Munster followed up a below-par performance with a fiery response, particularly in Europe, yet Saturday night in Limerick was one forgetful moment after another.
Munster were unrecognisable from the warrior outfits of old. Where was the Stand Up And Fight? Where were the leaders to take up the challenge? And why didn't any one of Keatley's team mates grab him by the scruff of the neck and encourage him out of his slump?
Which brings me back to the coach. Rob Penney was let go two years ago after guiding Munster to a Heineken Cup semi-final.
Yet, here we are, with Munster devoid of pattern, lacking in leadership and with a panel of players that seem lost in their job, and Foley is rewarded with another year in charge. Does that make sense?
This season, where Munster are concerned, excuses have never been far behind a bad performance. "The referee robbed us. . . One crucial mistake cost us. . . the players let themselves down. . ."
When does a head coach stand up and start taking responsibility for the results?
On Wednesday morning, Paul O'Connell was officially unveiled as a Toulon player. It was strange watching Munster's greatest lock standing before the French media in a Toulon jersey, as his former team-mates struggled to pick up the pieces of a European nightmare.
O'Connell would not have stood for the shambles that was last Saturday night. It is not in his DNA.
Certainly, at the very least, there would be a monumental reaction at Welford Road this weekend under his stewardship. Munster tradition demands it. Munster fans expect it.
Munster are fighting for their season against Leicester on Sunday. Should they lose, it will be the second successive season where they have failed to get out of their pool under the current head coach. What then?
Do Munster fans continue to buy the lame excuses? Will they persevere and continue to support a team that is losing its way?
A radical new approach is needed. One can only hope that the ink is not yet dry on Foley's contract extension.
Meanwhile, according to the Leinster website, 40,000 fans are expected to turn out at the Aviva stadium tomorrow for the visit of Toulon.
We have been hearing all week that the players are gearing themselves up for a reaction, but it would take a performance level not yet seen under Leo Cullen to topple the defending champions in Dublin.
For Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, I imagine his eyes will be firmly focused on the performance of Jonathan Sexton at the Aviva tomorrow.
A repeat of last weekend's horror show would be extremely worrying ahead of the start of the Six Nations in seven weeks' time.
As things stand, based on the performances of several senior players in recent weeks, confidence in Ireland being able to retain the title is at rock bottom.