Tuesday 21 January 2020

Billy Keane: 'Reds bring fight to La Défense but reinforcements are needed'

JJ Hanrahan, who had some fine moments in Paris, is tackled by Racing’s Antonie Claassen. Photo: Sportsfile
JJ Hanrahan, who had some fine moments in Paris, is tackled by Racing’s Antonie Claassen. Photo: Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Munster called out Racing and fought as they always do.

It wasn't exactly "Come out ye Racing Men, Come out and fight me like a man."

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There is a special relationship between Racing and Munster ever since the passing of Anthony Foley, who spent his last hours in Paris on the night before the Racing game. Racing were decent and very good to the Munster fans.

This time the men in red were right there until very near the end. It seems as if the dream is over for another year, bar a miracle that seems even beyond Munster.

The scoreline does not reflect the depth of the Munster effort or the strength of the Munster resolve. Munster tired and it was then the damage was done in the Paris La Défense Arena.

The name of the stade and the district it is situated in comes from the statue of La Défense de Paris. The statue commemorates the bravery of the people of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War.

I hope for the sake of the local politicians there are no plans to commemorate the Prussian invaders.

Munster did defend, and did so bravely, but they just couldn't keep up the momentum. Munster have no excuses; however, questions must be asked by the ERC as to the why there was no evidence provided by way of a wide shot to check if Teddy Thomas was or was not offside for his crucial try.

Improved The reality is Munster were always going to be in trouble in this group. Both Saracens and Racing are two of the best teams in the competition. We have improved but not enough.

There were some fine performances from Munster. JJ Hanrahan was excellent and so was Conor Murray.

The experts want Conor dropped. And on with John Cooney. No more about it; form player and all that. Cooney is the business. No doubt about that either but I'm going for Murray to open against Scotland.

Cooney has been brilliant for Ulster at club level. He plays like one of those bossy French scrum-halves who dictates play. For the last 50 years or so the out-half has called the shots for Ireland.

Murray shared the game-running duties with Jonathan Sexton and they were very successful. Provided Sexton is fit to play against Scotland, it would make perfect sense to keep the two together for an hour at least. Quite simply, the friends know how to beat the Scots. They will set the tone and the tempo. Ogie Moran, inter alia, has won more All-Irelands than any Dublin player which is probably as clear an indication to why Stephen Cluxton will stay on for at least another year. Poor Stephen has only won the bare seven, one less than Moran and his Kerry friends.

Ogie has this impossible question he asks when us greats of yesteryear meet up for cocoa. The question is vote 1, 2, 3, 4 for Marc, Dara, Tomás or Páidí Ó Sé in order of excellence. So you give the answer and say Tomás is placed fourth; then Ogie says, "So are you saying Tomas is the worst of the Ó Sés?"

The point of all this is just because we pick Murray, it doesn't mean Cooney is being criticised. Murray is bigger and when he hits big men they go down. Cooney played with Sexton for barely 10 minutes in total. It is customary for the parties to a marriage to spend some time together before they tie the knot.

Bring on Cooney by all means, especially when the game breaks up. Cooney could find a gap in a set of false teeth. And, as the experts will tell you, there's quite a difference between club and international rugby.

It's a nice problem and every bit as tricky as the Ó Sé conundrum.

Where do we go from here? Back to Thomond first of all and make sure of taking five from the Ospreys game next week.

Long term, it's the Pro14 but right now Leinster are far and away the best team in that competition. The money is in the east and once again we are calling here for player buying and development finances to be funded by the supporters for the love of Munster. The goodwill is there. The Munster executive must act and act now.

The self-same supporters showed up in big numbers at La Défense.

One of the many benefits of foreign travel is one learns just how wonderful home can be. This axiom is particularly relevant to those of us who take the occasional drink.

Two of our customers, David 'Classy' Fitzmaurice and Pierce Walsh, were charged €12 for a demi, which is even less than a pint. The publicans of Ireland, the few of us still left, should encourage their customers to visit France. Perfume is cheaper per ounce than the drink in Paris.

The fans do have fun in France and there is no law against fun.

Munster will always draw us fans. Too much has passed between us to give up now.

The power of that love and support must be harnessed by Munster in financial terms. In the meantime, heads up boys. There is pain but no shame in defeat when a team gives their all - as Munster surely did in Paris yesterday.

Irish Independent

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