Wednesday 22 January 2020

David Kelly: 'Munster need domestic title days to rid them of European losing daze'

The yawning trophy gap will not be bridged in Europe so the PRO 14 must be mined to remind them what it feels like to be winners

Munster players react following their Heineken Champions Cup Pool 4 defeat to Saracens at Allianz Park in Barnet, England. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Munster players react following their Heineken Champions Cup Pool 4 defeat to Saracens at Allianz Park in Barnet, England. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Saracens could do themselves and the rest of Europe a lot of favours if they reverted to type and, shall we say, refuse to disclose everything to the latest inquiry in which their co-operation is being sought.

That the organisers of the Champions Cup have deemed it prudent to launch an investigation when both Saracens and Munster have already shaken hands and walked away smacks of the high-handed moral smugness in which rugby occasionally likes to wallow.

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We probably should think of the children, of course; but even they will not have been detained by Saturday’s events in north London for more than a minute, which is ironically precisely how long the 'incident' lasted .

We suspect quite strongly that the outcome of any investigation will see both clubs reminded of their responsibilities. And perhaps Munster will allow their good doctor a day off to spend some time administering to the sick and needy of Limerick city, or handing out presents, to remind him of his accountability.

Of course, Saracens, the skunks of club rugby these days, could do with some other club being painted as the offending party, given that we now know they were not always so comfortable with revealing the truth when investigated for domestic salary cap breaches.

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Rory Scannell looks dejected after Munster’s defeat to Saracens. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

And when it comes to name-calling, not demanding an apology from one of their lavishly paid players, when he advised all manner of hellish retribution for homosexuals, hardly gives them the supreme moral authority when one of their fatties is allegedly called an... erm, fattie.

The laughably labelled 'brawl' was not the story of the weekend; rather what happened afterwards. Munster folk are weaned on the maxim that while it may be a bad thing losing a battle that you didn't start in the first place, it’s even worse if you lose the entire war.

But that’s what happened to Johann van Graan's side who lost their discipline, composure and control at the worst possible time. Saracens seized the big moments like Munster once did in their pomp.

And so Munster lost another big game in Europe which, after drawing an equally significant fixture at home with Racing, leads one to conclude that their aptitude for winning these types of encounters remains as far beyond their grasp as it has done for any year in the last decade.

Performance is quite another aspect; against the most formidable club side in Europe, Munster produced arguably the best all-round display, particularly if assessing it alongside their last two European defeats, when they barely laid a glove on the champions.

This felt different, however; and it was. The only thing that didn't change was the result; the only measurement that should matter.

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Andrew Conway attempts to brush off Saracens’ Max Malins during their Heineken Champions Cup clash. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Logic dictates that the pattern will not change in Paris despite the well-meaning nonsense that will emit forth between now and January.

Munster are no nearer to being a Champions Cup-winning outfit this season than they were last, so perhaps it is better if they forget about Europe entirely and refocus their strategy on something which is achievable – PRO 14 success.

2020 will mark nine years since Munster won the title – a time when they were capable of competing with and beating the champions of the continent.

The yawning trophy gap will not be bridged in Europe so the PRO 14 must be mined to remind them what it feels like to be winners.

Saturday showed, even if they produced their best performance of the recent rivalry with Saracens, that they have simply forgotten how.

From the manner in which they loosened their grip when failing to double their lead on a tight scoreboard, to the ceding of momentum after the sideline shenanigans, Munster are a side not equipped to win big matches.

Others will decree whether it is wise for them to remain fully committed to Europe, but the evidence of recent years suggests that it may lead them further away, rather than closer, to a winning podium in any competition.

Last season, for example, one might observe that their late season domestic toil, as they focused on Europe instead, resulted in them getting this season's brutal pool draw.

Winning a trophy, however they get there, must remain the priority.

Preserving their best fight for domestic honours would not be a dishonourable route.

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