Tuesday 12 December 2017

Billy Keane: Concussion debate over Murray and Sexton takes the attention away from the culprits

Conor Murray is treated for injury against Glasgow last Saturday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Conor Murray is treated for injury against Glasgow last Saturday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Thomond is sold out. Limerick is booked out. There will be more visitors in the city than in Washington for the inauguration and if Donald Trump was a long shot well so too were Munster.

Last week Munster became the first club to make the Champions Cup knockout stages for the sixteenth time and there was still a game to go. Last year we were knocked out before Christmas.

This week the build-up was all about Conor Murray who was diagnosed by some armchair medics. I always thought it took six years to make a doctor and then another five or six on top of that to make a neurosurgeon. Conor is fine.

Much was made of the fact it took four minutes to diagnose Johnny Sexton as being fit to play and he was the only patient in the waiting room. He was fine. That's why he was set free.

I'm pretty sure I was the first to call for better player assessment. In the past, players were routinely sent back out on to the field of play when they were clearly concussed but this was not the case with either Murray or Sexton. We must take each case as we find it.

The treatment of players and medics was so unfair in that they were the ones who present when the examination was carried out. They know what they are doing.

The debate on the fitness of Sexton and Murray took the attention away from Gregor Townsend and the Glasgow players. Montpellier's Frans Steyn could have seriously damaged Sexton. But, bad as that horrendous tackle was, there did not seem to be a deliberate team decision to get Sexton.

There would be no need for most of the assessments if players played by the rules.

Was that there was a plan to target Murray? Now, we have no idea who drew up the plan or as they say in gangland "took out the hit". Murray was even roughed up after the final whistle which is very rare in rugby. Players shake hands and forget all the enmity over tea and croissants in the coziness of A and E.

Rugby at professional level is not only a sport but it is also a job. The norm in the workplace if there is persistent misbehaviour by a set of employees is for their manager to be held responsible. The medics, Sexton and Murray are the victims here and they are the ones being scrutinised.

Yet there was no investigation of Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend. Now it was obvious Murray was a marked man. Even if Townsend had no idea his players were going to single out Murray, as the boss he should have been called up before the stewards. Rugby must establish a practice whereby coaches are held to account for the actions of their players where the foul play is persistent, focused and intentional.

So here's hoping that tonight will be tough but fair. The crowd, the team, the managers are all actors in a passion play about a lost leader, a new leader and a team who found their Munster mojo in among the wreaths and the roses.

Ronan O'Gara is home. He was 'The Draughtsman of Thomond'. His every skiddy, skin-the-cat kick to the corner set up his team for the final drive. Ronan would rather be somewhere else. We owe him so much and I'm sure ROG will get a massive Munster reception.

Racing 92 are out but are they going to go out with a bang? They have the players to make life very difficult for Munster, who are 80 minutes away from another big day in 'The Sailboat Stadium'.

Limerick is made for rugby under lights. For a while - when Munster were going badly - the games were scheduled so early in the day that the milkman was barely under the duvet.

But now Munster are the main draw. I didn't think Munster played particularly well against Glasgow. They did play with great courage and honoured the jersey and those who came before them.

The Scots set the tone early on at the breakdown. This Munster team must realise that if they are go the whole way they have to work harder and play harder than any other team in the tournament. We must get stuck in early on.

Our set-piece has been dominant this year, but we struggled at times against Glasgow on a plastic pitch where the front-row moorings had no dig-in depth.

Stretches

Donnacha Ryan is the best second-row in the competition. The years out through injury gave his body a rest and Ryan has shown, in no small way, there is life without Paul O'Connell, not that we will ever see his likes again either.

I love it when Ryan stretches his jaw to full grit, grabs a hold of the biggest opposition player in the rolling maul and pulls him in the direction of the try-line like a reluctant dog on a lead.

The danger is Racing will try their best to beat us. You never know with the French. Racing are the champions of France. But we have Anthony, the guardian angel, and our team believe in angels.

Irish Independent

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