Wednesday 19 December 2018

Toulouse slow-punctured as Ryan inspires Reds in pursuit of glory for Foley

Munster scrum coach Jerry Flannery Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Munster scrum coach Jerry Flannery Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

I knew for sure Munster would win when my spotter noticed the cut grass lying down for ripening in a field too tiny for silage.

There are cautious farmers who will not chance mowing the grass for hay until the weather is hot enough to melt mangles.

This was surely the earliest hay for years or maybe even ever, and a sign of outrageous optimism on a day when the sun wasn't warm enough to keep the cat still on a window sill.

I know there are those of you reading who do not believe, but I speak the truth even though this portent presented itself to us on April the 1st, the feast day of harmless fools and white liars.

Munster are real. There are no fakes here or cowboy stories. The best of the Munster old world remains to sustain and inspire us in these the days when demagogues and chancers rule the world. Munster are an honest team.

The Toulousains weren't as confident as the Munster fans. They stayed in France. Their city is very beautiful and maybe it was case of the old French adage of why we should we go leave here when we have so much at home. The team isn't going well. You'd get more supporters at the funeral of an odd man.

But the sail-boat stadium was sold out. Full houses are bringing Munster back from sporting NAMA, and there are still big days ahead in the Guinness Pro12.

Munster honoured Axel and the tradition they now truly understand with a display of fierce commitment, fitness, and a defence that held the line all through. I watched the second half in the company of one Mick Galwey, who knows a thing or two. We were so high up in the stands a vet had to be called to treat a sparrow hawk suffering from vertigo but the view of the battleground was perfect for assessing formations.

And here's what Mick told me: "Munster always kept a straight line. Then the fourth man out from the breakdown came out hard. Our defence was top-class."

To be fair to Toulouse, they were not guilty of the fashionably late tackles which kept Conor Murray out. Munster hit harder because they cared more and the constant, controlled commotion wore out Toulouse who would have preferred if the game ended in GAA time.

Duncan Williams, Murray's replacement, was excellent. His passes were sent express. The understudy kept the head throughout and if there is an award for most improved player at the end of the season, well then Duncan is hot favourite right now. You couldn't find fault with any Munster player. There were mistakes but every man among them can be proud of their work.

There was a massive Toulouse assault around the hour mark and it was then we saw the new Munster prove they have a big chance of going all the way. The line was never breached. There was guts and fight from days of yore but the template of old was cemented together by the discipline imposed by our defence coach Jacques Nienaber. He knows his job. The word from the players is that Jacques and Rassie are doing most things right.

Our scrum coach Jerry Flannery can take huge credit too for the improvement and development of our front-row play. John Ryan, my fellow colitis sufferer, won man of the match. John, you will give great hope to so many kids with colitis. Thank you John for going public.

Toulouse were close for a while when a try with at least two forward passes was awarded by referee Doyle who did a decent job, bar for that one mistake. But then by minute 65 Munster just wore them out. Toulouse were a team playing with a slow puncture. They were unfit and we got the trip. Their subs were even exhausted. Near the end two of their number barely made it across the field. It was if they were wearing iron diving costumes from Jules Verne's '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'.

Munster scored for fun and if the game had gone on much longer the scoreboard man would be paid big overtime.

There were worrying injuries though. Murray should be back for the semi but we await news from CJ Seasamh and Peadar ó Mathúna who gave their all, all day long.

If any of you have any doubts as to the Irishness of CJ well then just look at him coming off the field. He was bloodied, battered and exhausted. Some inductees play for the money. CJ plays for the jersey. He didn't make the rules.

There was so much seething anger over the failure of the IRFU to award a contract to Donnacha Ryan but I think we are being unfair to Jamie Heaslip who was given his international contract on merit. It's as if people think Ryan was dumped so Heaslip could stay.

This is not the case. Heaslip never let Ireland or Leinster down and there's plenty of good rugby left in him.

What we need now is a statement from the IRFU and the player. The question that must be asked is did he jump or was he pushed? Why was he let go? Was it a lifestyle choice or a financial choice?

There are only two games left in the quest of glory for Foley. And Munster are so close to writing the most heroic and poignant epitaph.

Irish Independent

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