Monday 17 December 2018

Tony Ward: Munster v Leinster no longer a clash of equals - and the quality and quantity coming through is scary

Cullen's men now a scary prospect - and the Carberys, Leavys and Larmours are coming through in their droves

Simon Zebo fails to prevent Jordan Larmour from scoring his stunning try in Leinster’s victory over Munster. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Simon Zebo fails to prevent Jordan Larmour from scoring his stunning try in Leinster’s victory over Munster. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

I never like Munster losing and I'll not pretend otherwise. That said, the nature of Tuesday's defeat by Leinster might prove to be a blessing in disguise.

The temptation is there to bracket our two top provinces as being equal. They are not, nor have they been for some time.

When you witness the talent coming through the Leinster underage system, specifically the schools, as I do on a weekly basis, the quality and quantity coming through is almost scary.

It is difficult to see where they are all going to fit, and there is hardly a boy playing senior schools rugby in the eastern province who does not harbour the ambition of eventually making the pro cut.

Much like young lads chasing the English soccer dream, including many of my contemporaries growing up, it is but a very small percentage who actually make it. The vast majority in football return home with their confidence shattered.

It is for that reason that I support David Nucifora in his all-encompassing role with the IRFU when spreading the talent, particularly in our most densely-populated province, around.

The increasing movement of developing players to the other three provinces is hugely welcome because the Joey Carberys, Dan Leavys and Jordan Larmours of this world are coming through the Leinster schools system in their droves.

The challenge for Nucifora and the governing body is to spread that rich potential and in the process open up new avenues of opportunity to almost every young lad coming through the system.

The director of performance in Lansdowne Road deserves immense credit for what he has achieved thus far given the tradition and political intricacies involved.

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In the bigger picture the likes of Toulon will continue to buy success. I hate everything they and their owner stand for but whether it is Toulon or the best of the English Premiership taking that shortcut to silverware, as long as Philip Browne and the IRFU act with financial fairness in attempting to keep our best at home, with the odd exception it will succeed.

But back to that riveting contest in Thomond on Stephen's Day, specifically from a Munster perspective.

For Johann van Graan the landing could scarcely have been any smoother with wins over Zebre, Ospreys and Leicester home and away. As promising starts go, this was as good as it gets.

Despite losing to Leinster, the back-to-back Champions Cup games against Leicester proved that this Munster squad are capable of taking their intensity to another level.

It will still likely not be enough to win the competition outright for a third time but they should clear the pool and possibly secure a home quarter-final.

When the sides were announced for Tuesday's game I felt Leo Cullen gave Munster and the occasion the respect it deserved by way of selection.

I still don't understand the logic behind the James Lowe signing but by including the newly-acquired Kiwi it looked a side well capable of turning Munster over, irrespective of the international elite missing.

That said, the whirlwind start, which lasted for almost all of the opening half, was unexpected.

Munster looked off the pace and unprepared for the occasion psychologically.

The second half - I suspect on the back of a Jerry Flannery half-time verbal lashing - elicited the appropriate response and in the end two moments of magic, one defensively by Leavy and the other a piece of attacking magic from Larmour, for which no defence can legislate, copper-fastened this deserved away win.

It has been suggested to me that the four tries conceded smacks of a massive task for newly-arrived defence coach JP Ferreira.

I don't know the new head coach from Adam but I would be astonished if there was any change to the Andy Farrell-inspired defensive strategy from the previous month.

If it ain't broke, why fix it? While I'm still frustrated, like many Munster supporters, at the timing of the departure of the old management, what new coach would look to change things when everything appears to be working smoothly in defence?


It is for that reason the lack of line-speed, the drop in urgency (from Welford Road) and the fact that the first-half bullying was by the team in blue points to a group perhaps a little tired but most definitely off the boil from what has been delivered in the month before.

The absence of Chris Cloete was also a crucial difference too, though. I am not insinuating fault towards Tommy O'Donnell but Cloete, much like Leavy at Leinster, is a different type of flanker.

Leinster possess an abundance of riches in that area with Josh van der Flier similar if even more fluid than O'Donnell but Cloete, like Leavy, is a brick house at the breakdown and possesses an even lower centre of gravity than the Leinster man of the match.

Leavy's game has evolved from the free-ranging role he had in school at St Michael's to the menace he now is for every opposing team at the breakdown.

His try (with Munster squeezed tight and a textbook Ross Byrne cross-kick) will test Ferreira in post-match analysis but it was Leavy's domination of the breakdown against Munster's first-choice back-row heretofore that will cause most concern.

Of all the overseas players to come Munster's way over the years it is the South African flanker who has impressed me most upon his arrival.

His impact has been immediate and if he can remain injury-free he has the potential to be mentioned in the same breath as John Langford or Jim Williams in the longer term.

But the abiding memory in a claustrophobic game heavy on artisans but short on artists is of Larmour doing what his head coach told him to do - "going out and simply beating men".

There is no substitute for inventiveness or in having that innate ability to play the moment.

The ex-St Andrew's boy has that ability to side-step and exploit space at full tilt off either foot.

So with due respect to the recently-arrived Ferreira, and every other defensive coach of that ilk, long may the Larmours, Carberys, Tiernan O'Hallorans and Andrew Conways of this world carry the day.

Irish Independent

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