Monday 17 June 2019

Tony Ward: 'Joey Carbery and Tadhg Beirne make Munster a match for anyone - even Leinster'


Tadhg Beirne is congratulated by his Munster team-mates after winning a turnover against Exeter at Thomond Park on Saturday. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Tadhg Beirne is congratulated by his Munster team-mates after winning a turnover against Exeter at Thomond Park on Saturday. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

It bears little relevance to the Six Nations opener against England, but three out of three for Irish provinces against Premiership opposition certainly does no harm.

At the Ricoh Arena, man of the match Jamison Gibson-Park laid down the marker in the opening minutes, and after that Leinster were so cool, so comfortable, so confident with the ball and so busy on the other side of it that it was cruise control all the way to a home quarter-final with Ulster.

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By contrast in Limerick on Saturday night we got Champions Cup rugby as close as is possible to Test-level intensity.

If there was a line-break it passed me by, but what a match, what commitment, what physicality from first whistle to last.

It was everything we expected and more. What we got was a modern-day version of old-style rugby. Not pretty, anything but.


Even though Munster are away - to Edinburgh - in the last eight, I give them every chance of making it through to the semi-final at least.

You could argue either way as to which side deserved it more, but in the end the ice-cool Joey Carbery seized the day.

We now take high goal-kicking percentages as a matter of course. Yes, it's what these guys get paid for, but they are not machines, and there are certain moments when they really earn their corn.

One of those moments came in the 72nd minute on Saturday. Trailing by a point to Exeter, Munster were awarded a penalty; the shot at goal was as missable as it was kickable.

Carbery nailed it - "never in doubt" was the general reaction. But for the kicker, there no such certainty. They have to block out any thoughts about the consequences of failure, which they do by sticking to the "process".

Also, while the noiselessness of Thomond ahead of a kick is generally a pleasure for the home marksman, this particular shot was so important that the sound of silence was a burden Carbery perhaps didn't need.

But 'cometh the moment, cometh the man', and Carbery again looked an out-half star in the making.

Overall he had another strong game but central to the outcome was the reliability of his goalkicking - since Castres away, he hasn't missed.

He is not Ronan O'Gara, nor will he ever be, but this was more evidence that he is a star performer in his own right.

And in a battle where the collisions were titanic, Tadhg Beirne's poaching at the breakdown was almost inhuman.

He is a second-row but he is like a classic groundhog No 7. Add Chris Cloete and Peter O'Mahony to that breakdown mix, and Munster simply have to be in with a shout against any opposition - Leinster and Saracens included.

And don't forget CJ Stander. Beirne and Carbery are now taking the man-of-the-match gongs that a year or so ago were Stander's preserve, but the No 8 has not declined at all. Far from it. He is every bit as effective, even more so in terms of savvy, than in those mantelpiece-filling matches.

He is now alongside Kieran Read as the most effective No 8 in world rugby. And like the All Black skipper, Stander is utterly selfless.

It would be remiss not to mention Billy Holland and that match-turning moment five minutes before Carbery's decisive kick.

His off-load for Keith Earls' try in Kingsholm was special but his lineout steal on the line when he soared like an eagle has to be at the very top of his greatest moments in the red shirt he has worn with such distinction over the years.

Just like Carbery's kick, it was a pressure moment when he had to deliver, and he did.

Ulster's trip to Leicester lacked the same level of intensity - certainly in the opening half - but trailing by 13 points they too dug deep with Rory Best, Iain Henderson, Stuart McCloskey, Billy Burns, replacement John Cooney and the irrepressible Jacob Stockdale outstanding.

When I look at Stockdale on the ball now, Jonah Lomu comes into my mind. He has that aura of near invincibility when in possession and while clearly less in bulk he has a box of tricks of which any winger would be proud.

Dave Shanahan is another scrum-half coming on leaps and bounds, but Cooney is close to the finished article. Caolin Blade is now rightly in the Ireland mix but Cooney gave compelling evidence that he should be back-up to Conor Murray in the Six Nations.

He changed Ulster's tempo at Welford Road when he came on. Great times just getting better.

Irish Independent

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