| 19.3°C Dublin

Peter Bills: Deposed Kings face difficult period in exile

All over Ireland last night, dynasties seemed to be disintegrating. Brian Cowen may have delayed his inevitable departure but Fianna Fail's dynasty continued to crumble. And in faraway Toulon, Munster's great rugby dynasty headed down the same road towards ruin.

What made this horror show even worse from Munster's point of view was that it represented an 80-minute long suicide note. Munster's crass indiscipline compounded a dire day, one which ended not with the whiff of sea breezes by the Mediterranean but the unmistakeable aroma of a decaying empire.

To hand as metronomic a goal kicker as Jonny Wilkinson so many chances from penalties, was something that will keep coach Tony McGahan awake at night for months. The English out-half managed eight successful kicks, six penalties and two conversions, from his 10 attempts.

For those who have revelled in Munster's excellence over so long a period, it must have been heartbreaking to witness their appalling lack of discipline. Players like Donncha O'Callaghan and Ronan O'Gara, who got themselves sin-binned for stupid, indisciplined acts, should hang their heads in shame for their roles in undermining their own team's chances.

struggling

Munster were struggling already with a 16-6 deficit when O'Callaghan ridiculously took out an opponent chasing a kick which was 25 metres downfield.

By the time he returned, Toulon had scored 13 points against their 14-man opponents and at 29-9, the game was over. O'Gara's willingness to allow himself to be dragged into a petulant scrap with Pierre Mignoni seven minutes after O'Callaghan's return, resulting in a second yellow card, simply defied belief.

It was only because Toulon had already started to take their foot off the pedal, knowing the game was all but over even with half an hour left, that Munster avoided conceding another glut of points.

That Munster's great and glorious era as one of European rugby's finest exponents should end in this shabby, petulant way was a matter of deep regret. But what of the wider implications for Irish rugby?

The lack of a power scrummage at Munster, a factor of which we have long known, remains Ireland's great concern, too. It can hardly be propitious in a World Cup year to see Ireland's once pre-eminent province fall so comprehensively from their pedestal.

But the saving grace, in part, for national coach Declan Kidney, is that Leinster show every sign of taking up the slack. For as poor and unimaginative as Munster were yesterday in the south of France, so Leinster had sparkled in Dublin 24 hours earlier.

Even so, Kidney must be alarmed at the apparent ending of an era for so many distinguished players, in whom he would have wished to place considerable responsibility for the World Cup campaign this autumn. But the likes of O'Callaghan, O'Gara, Stringer, O'Leary, Hayes and Wallace look past their best. Paul O'Connell inevitably and understandably struggled to make any impact after such a long absence.

Munster were without imagination, precision or control in any area of the game. They attacked only laterally, allowing Toulon's organised defence to drift and contain the threat easily. They were bested at the breakdown by the Toulon forwards, especially back row men George Smith and Joe van Niekerk. And their front five offered them no sort of attacking platform whatsoever.

Above all, and so unusually for Munster, nobody stepped up to the mark, no-one offered himself as the totem pole for others to follow. They departed this season's Heineken with barely a whimper, and that is something you never expected to say about a once great rugby dynasty.

On this painful evidence, a major re-building task is required at Thomond Park and the process may prove relatively lengthy and difficult.

Irish Independent