Monday 21 October 2019

Billy Keane: 'This united bunch of Munster men will take some stopping'

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony. Photo: Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Is it a compliment when you criticise a team that have won by 25 points?

Munster tried too hard to win the game too early. They knocked on, over-kicked, under-threw and overthrew.

Just like that last sentence, there were far too many hyphens interrupting the Munster narrative.

Munster planned to run Castres off the pitch early on and then move in for the kill when the French tired.

The bonus was there for the taking but Munster lost the extra star in the Bushtucker Trial.

Castres didn't even make it into the Munster 22 in an underwhelming first half. It was as if they were wearing one of those collars they put on dogs to keep them within the curtilage of the house.

The match reminded me of the joke in this year's 'Irelands Own' annual.

Q: "When does Santa say, "oh, oh, oh?"

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A: Santa goes "oh, oh, oh" when he's walking backwards.

There far more oh, oh, ohs than ho, ho, hos for both sides.

There is no doubt the late withdrawals affected the team's plans. Joey Carbery came off the bus injured. Was it a pothole?

Chris Farrell pulled up during the warm-up. Add in the loss of Jean Kleyn and Munster were down one fifth of their strongest team.

Conor Murray looked under- cooked after months out but then class told and the pride of Patrickswell made two of Munster's three tries with a break, a fend and a one-handed offload. That man has hands like flippers.

JJ Hanrahan was man of the match and I'm not saying that because he's a Kerryman. We met up with Ronan O'Gara a few years ago in the foyer of The Shelbourne. He was of the opinion then that JJ was heading for the very top.

JJ spent some time in Northampton where my Dad spent four years making ball bearings.

Some of the family over there reckon JJ didn't get a fair hearing, so he found his way back home.Last season was disrupted by injury. The word from the Munster camp is there is very little between Joey and JJ.

This is some compliment as Joey is one of the best there is and is much-loved already. Munster must mind him. He is still very young and out-halves are the hardest hit and least protected.

Referee JP Doyle kept the game from boiling over. It was last year in Bordeaux and Munster lost - JP was the ref. He was fair.


That night he went into the Munster fans' meeting places and chatted away, answering any queries about the game that came his way.

Sam Arnold came in for Farrell and he played well. One of his rolls was the longest since a man went down Niagara Falls in a barrel and Arnold's 11 carries were all go-forward. Munster now have strength in depth in every position.

Chris Cloete played everywhere on the pitch at the same time. The smaller more mobile sevens are back in fashion and Cloete is in top form.

It looked like duck for Christmas until Castres scored for the first time in the last play and saved the French from going cold turkey.

Sorry about the fowl jokes. It's just that us sports writers get giddy at this time of the year.

Munster had 25 points to spare but it is as well to remember just a few years ago Munster slaughtered Leicester in Thomond only to get beaten over there a week later. Castres will play rough rugby next week.

But there is love there too in the south of France. The village of Lasgraisses is about 35 minutes from Castres and is home to fewer than 500 inhabitants.

Next weekend the locals will celebrate a rugby festival in honour of Munster.

Mark Meehan, the chairman of the Munster Rugby Supporters Club, told us the villagers offered to keep Munster fans in their own homes free of charge.

The good people of Lasgraisses will collect the Red Army platoon from Toulouse Airport and pet them for the weekend.

This could be the beginning of a rugby movement. The Champions Cup has brought us to places we would never have visited and friendships have been formed in faraway places.

The one o'clock kick-off in Limerick was a mess. The buzz was missing. Someone should tell the organisers that people lie-in late in the December party season and the early kick-off is a huge blow to Limerick's hospitality sector. There's more to this game than sating television.

Yes, next week will present a new challenge. The French play better at home.

There was a moment of Munster all for one and one for all around the 52nd minute which gives cause for hope.

Murray knocked on behind his own line. It was down to tiredness and lack of game-time concentration.

His friends bailed him out. Captain Peter O'Mahony tore the ball from a Castres clutch. Munster won another turnover just after that and kicked on to victory.

I really get a sense of togetherness from Munster. Most of them signed new deals this week.

We will take it game by game but this team will take some stopping if they can play to their best every day.

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