Northampton turned the basic concept of sport on its head on Friday night when they chose to accept defeat against Munster rather than risk one last effort to win -- or tie -- the game.
It was a fitting end to a night of puke rugby from the English Premiership leaders. Call it pragmatic or professional if you must, but Northampton's approach to the game was depressingly cynical: kill the game by kicking long and swamping the breakdown.
Roman Poite, the hapless French official, played his part by refusing to referee the rucks and by refusing to communicate with the players. His attitude, and his incompetence, raised the frustration levels and contributed significantly to a fractious, fractured, mess of a game.
But in Thomond, even the most dreadful of matches can be magnificently compelling because the passion and commitment on display defy belief. For 10 minutes in the second half, after Poite had sin-binned Paul O'Connell (pictured), the stadium roared into life as Munster fought to lift a Northampton siege. It was a classic triumph of the spirit: Munster carved out victory despite a lineout that could not function and a scrum that creaked.
Northampton, too, played a large part in Munster's triumph by asking Shane Geraghty, a wonderfully talented running out-half, to ignore those talents. He kicked long and poorly and his confidence wilted as his talents vanished. Even when the line was at Northampton's mercy, the ball was kicked away, and when the final opportunity came, the ball was hoofed into the stand rather than carried up the field.
It was grim, cynical and attritional: Northampton achieved a narrow ambition and offered a horrible glimpse of what rugby could become.