Wednesday 16 October 2019

Billy Keane: 'Joe Schmidt won't need to bluff with his strong hand of 10s'

Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery shake hands after Saturday’s PRO14 semi-final between Leinster and Munster at the RDS. Photo: Sportsfile
Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery shake hands after Saturday’s PRO14 semi-final between Leinster and Munster at the RDS. Photo: Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Munster were well beaten on Saturday. Game over, ball burst for this year.

But at least we were busy in May.

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Some years ago we proposed a plan whereby every Munster supporter would give an unconditional hundred euro to help out. Munster are not that far behind the top two but player recruitment and coach recruitment needs additional resources. Any takers?

Munster are well served at 10. There were four out-halves on view on Saturday. The good news is all four played well. The best of the lot was Jonathan Sexton who didn't start. More about Ireland's excellent hand of four 10s later on but first we must delve in to the troubled world of HR.

The Munster build-up wasn't good.

The Irish are addicted to confession. Sooner or later we confide in someone and very often the confession becomes public. More murders have been solved by confessions than by forensics or eye-witnesses.

There's a sacrament of confession too and maybe this desire to reveal all is singed by a burning cross into our national consciousness.

The confessional is reserved for the telling of sins. You will seldom get a confession where the penitent says, "Bless me father, for we have won the Pro14", or, "Thanks be to God Father the silage is cut."

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Transparency is the other excuse given for the telling of your private business. The practice has spread to rugby. Earlier this year we were told Joe Schmidt was on his way after the World Cup. He gave us so much but the news broke our hearts. Can you imagine if a man said to his wife, "I'm leaving you but not for six months?"

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I had a friend who only ever told his beloved he was heading off to a big Munster game in some sunny part of France about two days after he came home. I would not advocate this approach but sometimes it is best to keep certain matters private and confidential.

Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones are leaving the Munster coaching staff. The bad news was given out just days before Saturday's semi-final of the Pro14. I can understand the Joe story but why could this leaving of key coaches not have been kept private until the tournament ended?

Players like certainty and players need routine coming up to big games.

Paddy Kennelly wrote a wise book called 'A Place too Small for Secrets'. There's no such thing as a secret in this country. Just ask the FAI.

It could be the powers that be were afraid the news would get out and the players would be upset on the morning of a big game.


It is surely a huge surprise for you on this fine May morning to read a sports columnist who does not know everything. I do not know how this problem can be solved but a plan must be made because the old plan is a bad plan.

So how will Joe play his hand of 10s later this year?

The picking of Ross Byrne was pre-planned a few weeks ago in conjunction with the IRFU. Byrne was very good off the tee but found the Munster rush hard enough to cope with at times. Young Byrne is not far away and his place-kicking is world-class.

The 10 in rugby is like a policeman directing traffic while standing in the middle of the passing-out lane on the M50 at 20 minutes before clock-in time. The 10 gets knocked down and the driver says, "Sorry your honour, but I couldn't stop."

The World Cup starts barely a week after the Listowel Races in September. The playing of Ireland's most influential player just six days after the roughest and toughest of Champions Cup finals would have been madness.

Sexton suffered an arm injury in the last couple of minutes of the Saracens game. He was very sore all week. There was no dropping, just minding.

Joey Carbery will be on the plane to Japan but will he be the pilot? The Munster 10 is at his best from broken play. Carbery could spot a gap on Kim Jong-un's border big enough for a man to fit through.

Carbery was playing behind a beaten team on Saturday. It's very hard to go forward when you are going backwards. He is still some way behind Sexton when it comes to game management, especially so in the organising of the defence.

Munster should have tested the Leinster back-three more when they had the wind. The Leinster first-up defence was just too good. Andrew Conway and Keith Earls weren't given the opportunity to outjump the big men as they so often do. And remember Rob Kearney was rested.

This has been a coming-of-age season for Carbery. He just needs another year or two before he is up there with the very best in the world. His place-kicking has improved dramatically which goes to show Joey, as they call him in Munster, where he is much loved, is well capable of upping his grades.

JJ Hanrahan has ended the season as Munster's number two out-half. He should have been brought in earlier. JJ is a risk-taker when risks need to be taken. There's no auto pilot here and JJ is underrated.

But Sexton is still the best and by some way. He accurately kicks the ball five to 10 metres further from the hand than any other player. There's no better man to squeeze an extra week from a tube of toothpaste.

Sexton upped the tempo when he came on. No man's land is never an option. He plays on the front line and Leinster responded to his go-forward.

His courage is at times reckless but he knows no other way. No out-half put in more tackles and no 10 ever will.

The essence of this 10 is that, like a chess grandmaster thinking many moves ahead, he reads the imminent future better than any other player anywhere.

Irish Independent

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