Sunday 25 February 2018

Thomond faithful finally lose their patience

Munster full-back Andrew Conway contests a high ball with Ed Slater of Leicester at Thomon Park on Saturday
Munster full-back Andrew Conway contests a high ball with Ed Slater of Leicester at Thomon Park on Saturday
Thomas Bell of Leicester takes on Keith Earls (R) and Francis Saili
Ben Youngs (L) of Leicester celebrates with team mate Telusa Veainu after scoring their third try
David Kelly

David Kelly

Perhaps this was the night when so much patience eventually splintered away into thousands of little pieces in Thomond Park.

When to be brave and faithful seemed like the most distant of pipe-dreams for all concerned.

The Thomond roar was mostly muted and, jarringly, silence attended the final whistle for all who remained, save the joyous collective of Leicester faithful, delirious with such an artful mugging.

For Munster, a soundtrack of despair; and, worse, the needle seems to be stuck.

However, as the minutes had ticked depressingly away to the end of this stunning evening of contrasts, between highs and lows, delight and dejection, angst and appreciation, one of the bummest notes of all would remain ineradicably lodged as an accompaniment to a horror show.

It happened when Ian Keatley was subbed off with seven minutes remaining: some of the less than capacity crowd who had deigned to remain - many had already shuffled slowly towards the exits - ironically cheered his removal.


On a patch of turf where the home players have always received unconditional, indiscriminate support, the aural violence of the angered chorus jarred one's senses.

The official attendance was offered as north of 22,000; more significantly, the loudest of the cheers directed at Keatley came predominantly from the core section of the support.

Not all of them, maybe, but enough to be clearly and loudly heard.

Patience had cracked, utterly. The shattering shards rained down, indiscriminately.

Keatley received the obvious clang of displeasure; and certainly, the poor lad's professional collapse was distressing to witness, culminating in his imperceptible second-half disappearance, burying himself in ruck after ruck or ceding kicks to touch, so seemingly fearful was he of actively remaining to the pivot position.

"That is very disappointing from a very knowledgeable crowd to do that and I am very disappointed in that," reported head coach Anthony Foley of the crowd's reaction to Keatley's exit.

The further irony may be that some of the "knowledgeable crowd's" ire may now become directed towards Foley himself, for a sense of culpability far beyond needlessly allowing his hapless out-half to so publicly drown for longer than necessary.

It was worrying that Foley expended so much energy on approaching the referee at half-time; regardless of his opinion on Romain Poite's judgement of a shoulder charge on Andrew Conway, the decision had already been made.

Foley's counsel should instead have been re-directed towards his own players, whose stunning collapse can never be ascribed to the mere whim of a referee's whistle; in his playing pomp, such a self-pitying reaction would have been frowned upon.

That Foley revealed he had made such an intervention is arguably more perturbing; so too his blithe admission that he was rather less reluctant to speak to Keatley about the swirling speculation that he will soon be replaced by Leinster's Ian Madigan.

He only had all week to do so. On both these issues, Foley's purportedly acute sense of perception were sorely marked absent.

The stunning absence of any attacking shape and poor attitude in a porous defence is not a novel problem; the lethargy of all the staff in arresting the decline is extremely worrying.


Keatley aside, his team-mates are not blameless. Anyone can miss a sitter on any day; any player can collapse into a heap thereafter; but for the entire team to implode before half-time, when the game was effectively ceded with two shockingly soft tries, was alarming.

The other on-field general, Conor Murray, slipped less obviously than his out-half into a quagmire but, nonetheless, his lack of leadership and impact was startling.

Has his patience slipped, too? He remains out of contract and the two wingers, sorely underused thanks to the miserable inability of those inside to furnish them, must now also ponder whether their future lies here, or elsewhere.

The next 80 minutes in Leicester may rip up Saturday night's depressing narrative; but then, Munster supporters were promised that scenario after the humbling defeat here to Connacht and, then again, after the humiliating reverse to Dragons.

The pre-match withdrawal of injury-prone Kiwi import Tyler Bleyendaal should have eased the pressure on Keatley.

Aside from Madigan, another absent No 10 - JJ Hanrahan - will also be a name close to man punter's lips throughout the week.

"It's frustrating for Tyler, the players, team-mates, for me and the other coaches, that a player of his quality, we can't get him on the pitch," explained Foley before reverting once more to Hanrahan's exodus.

"We offered JJ a contract. JJ opted to go to Northampton, that's his decision, that's fine, everybody has the right of choice.

"The Madigan thing came from Dublin. Nobody in Munster has spoken to Madigan or attempted to speak to Madigan. That can be unsettling for a player, particularly in the week of a big game, whether it is the Leinster player or the Munster player holding the jersey.

"I have no idea if Keatley was unsettled. I didn't speak to him about it all week because I had nothing to say to him about it.

"Sometimes there is stuff happens well outside your control and that was one of them. We are all professionals and we all had jobs to do, it was a busy week."

So much effort, so little outcome.

Ultimately, a result and performance that once more reminded us that Munster are obviously a vast distance from what they used to be in the past.

The present worry is that nobody seems to know how far they are from being the best they can be.

Time is not on Munster's side.

Munster - A Conway; K Earls, F Saili, D Hurley (L Amorosino 60), S Zebo; I Keatley (N Scannell 73), C Murray (T O'Leary 69); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 54), N Scannell (M Sherry 52), BJ Botha (J Ryan 39); D Foley (M Chisholm 54), D Ryan; R Copeland, D O'Callaghan (J O'Donoghue 69), CJ Stander.

Leicester Tigers - T Veainu; A Thompstone (G Camacho 78), M Smith, S Bai, V Goneva; O Williams (T Bell 58), B Youngs (S Harrison 67); M Ayerza (M Aguero 78), T Youngs (H Thacker 79), D Cole (F Balmain 78); G Kitchener, M Fitzgerald (D Barrow 70); E Slater (capt), B O'Connor, L McCaffrey.

Ref - R Poite (France)

Munster 19 Leicester31

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