Saturday 21 April 2018

Pitiful Munster's Champions Cup hopes now on the brink

Munster head coach Anthony Foley.
Munster head coach Anthony Foley.
David Kelly

David Kelly

Whither Munster after Munster wither?

It was difficult to surmise after this harrowing exercise in self-immolation which was less enticing - Hell or Connacht.

While the joyful westerners ponder potential trips to Paris and London next season, Munster's vast quantity of underachievers could instead be heading for the far-flung outposts of Eastern Europe.

Krasnoyarsk in December? Lovely. Then again, when Connacht were stranded there earlier this season, it didn't do their team spirit much harm. Perhaps a little bit of humility wouldn't go amiss down south.

Ten years after winning their first European Cup, the chances of Munster being around to participate in next season's edition remains lodged somewhere between nervous uncertainty and rank improbability. All known form and logic suggests they haven't a prayer; the grim reality of their position, mired in mid-table mediocrity, in a league devoid of Champions Cup semi-finalists, is an abrupt slap to one's senses.

While Connacht have steadily evolved in the past three seasons, Munster have back-pedalled with accelerating alacrity.

A new Director of Rugby is set to arrive and join Anthony Foley for the final year of his contract - Foley has publicly stated that he has no idea who he will be, nor has he had an iota of input into the appointment.

It highlights the chaotic nature of the current set-up; the coaching structure will fragment again this summer but that is for the future. For the present, this team's self-belief is on the floor.

That much was demonstrated by their stunning inability, despite compiling a healthy early 14-6 lead in confident fashion, to withstand the heat when it was eventually turned up to the max by a home side inured to any challenge to its own discipline, character and playing style.

"We scored a couple of lovely tries and we were playing into a big wind," said Foley. "At 14-6, I thought we were good value for that. The game left us. Some of it was in our control and some of it was not.

"It's hard for the ten minutes before and the ten minutes after half-time when you really get exposed."

Yet again, Foley was reduced to lamenting judicial interventions yet it cannot be merely coincidence that his side continually fall foul of the law; after all, James Cronin was stridently warned before his binning; players are told to paint pictures at scrum time; the international merely daubed a thick crayon of chaos.

"It was a touchline call," says Foley, who also had issues with Billy Holland's dismissal which ultimately gave Connacht the foothold in the match that they never withdrew.

"If you look at it, and the camera is good on that side of the pitch, green three collapses and feeds out. BJ Botha done it for years, is penalised for years for it, and we get a yellow card and a penalty. Go from there."

Donnacha Ryan is likely to miss the crucial Edinburgh clash in a fortnight with a second successive concussion; both sides are locked together on 53 points but Munster, as it stands, are out of Europe.

Amongst supporters, there is little confidence, or faith, in their ability to change these circumstances by winning their last two games.

"You'd like to think a lot of things are in your control but then other people make decisions," says Foley of a team who, at precisely the most inopportune moment, are running out of time and ideas.

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