Sunday 17 February 2019

Billy Keane: 'Blue mist descends but it won't impact on Irish unity'

Leinster’s Johnny Sexton and Munster’s Joey Carbery, who stand shoulder to shoulder in the green of Ireland, were best of enemies in the heat of battle at Thomond Park on Saturday. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster’s Johnny Sexton and Munster’s Joey Carbery, who stand shoulder to shoulder in the green of Ireland, were best of enemies in the heat of battle at Thomond Park on Saturday. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

There was no hiding on the rugby field of Thomond and there's no place to hide behind the pub counter either.

They were building this up as a Final Trial but really it was a ferocious battle between the two best teams in possibly the best rugby-playing country in the world right now.

Some may say there were ugly scenes and children were given bad example. Will ye stop. In this world when fire in the belly has been doused by an overdose of rationality, this latest Munster v Leinster game showed us as we are. This was the clash of the ash in rugby or maybe we could rebrand it as the clash of the bash.

I heard all about Jonathan Sexton in our pub on Saturday night. One man went so far as to say he was bold, or words to that effect.

So I came up with this story. I told the man who was giving out that Saturday was the 27th anniversary of the death of Sexton's pet rabbit Martin, and as a result the 10 was grieving something terrible.

The game wasn't outright filthy though. The incidents that led to the Leinster cards were more down to lack of care and judgement than to pre-planned dirty play.

There is no doubt but that Leinster were too fired up and Munster replied as Munster always do. Leinster would have been far better off if they just played rugby, with the necessary amount of aggression.

This Leinster team never stand back though which is one of their many admirable qualities. Maybe they should have made polite enquiries as to how Munster passed the Christmas, and asked what weight was your bird, and did ye knock the two days out of it; or was the turkey boned and rolled or brought out of the oven whole without any messing about with tradition.

Yes Leinster were well and truly stuffed in the first half and Leinster played with at least one man less for most of the game.

Thomond is a fiery field and always has been. The Munster supporters showed the time-honoured respect for the kicker but there's always one.

Grotto

Just as Sexton was about to put boot to ball there was a scream straight from 'When Harry Met Sally' but the other 20,000 or so Munster fans were as quiet as Santa's grotto on St Stephen's Day.

The game settled down after the red card. James Lowe deserved to go, more because of extreme carelessness rather than a deliberate attempt to maim. The red card killed off the red mist and a conservative Munster won thanks to Joey Carbery's excellent place-kicking.

Carbery did very well to recover from what was a poor day for him against Castres. This is a great sign of the young lad who must be minded. He is not sturdy enough yet to withstand the battering most out-halves get hit with in almost every game. Indeed the otherwise excellent referee Frank Murphy called one big hit on Sexton as " borderline late". It was like being a little bit over the drink-drive limit. Sexton felt that one and it didn't help that he was sick with 'flu all over Christmas. His withdrawal after an hour was pre-planned. By then he was in trouble with his hamstring. Like I was saying, 10s must be minded.

Celtic and Rangers also played on Saturday in toxic Ibrox. Rugby must not go the way of other sports. Here's hoping the sheep worriers on the net won't start off another dose of partition.

Sometimes when there's an outbreak of sheep-worrying the rest of us can get the mistaken impression that everyone in the opposite camp feels the same way. The vast majority will see the game for what it was and they know there should be no them and us once the final whistle is blown.

The players will kiss and make up at the next meet-up in Carlton House. I'm not sure if rugby players say stuff like 'I love you dude' with a reply of 'I love you too bro'.

There can be no going back to a divided camp as was once the case. Joe Schmidt will look for aggression for sure though against the English in our first game on the day after St Brigid's Day. There's nothing like an English game in Dublin to unite Ireland.

We can be fairly sure that first half an hour will be forgotten quickly enough. These Irish players have been through so much together. They will hardly throw it all away because of 30 minutes of madness.

Munster and Leinster will meet again in the concluding stages of this competition and possibly the Heineken Cup too. This Munster win is proof that they are good enough to win either or both club competitions.

Leinster were downed by the Irish numerology curse of five in a row and neither side had their ideal best 15 on the pitch. It seems that having all your players fit for the fray only ever exists on PlayStation. Rugby is a rough old game. Thomond is a formidable fort and teams coming to play in Limerick expect the worst.

It is reasonable then on the basis of what we saw on Saturday night to come to the conclusion there is very little between the two teams, even when both sides are at full strength, and have all 15 on the field for the full game.

Irish Independent

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