AT this stage, the main issue is whether Munster and Connacht will even get to kick a ball in tomorrow’s scheduled round nine clash in the United Rugby Championship.
Last week I had just finished the preview to Munster-Leinster when the news broke that the St Stephen’s Day game had to be cancelled because of a Covid outbreak in the Leinster camp.
Devastated would be an understatement.
It was a game that I was so looking forward to scrutinising because if you want a true reflection of where you stand, you can only do that when you play against the best.
For some time now the brightly radiating blue colours of the men from D4 have cast a shadow over the never-say-die green of Connacht, the sometimes blistering white of Ulster, and now what can only be described as the dreary and apathetic red of Munster.
Ever since I was asked to become a contributor to The Echo, I did so with one solitary condition and that was that I refused to tow the party line. While I have lost a few friends because of this proviso, the day I am asked to change my principles is the day I will stop writing.
If I was ever awarded the opportunity to play just one more game of high-level competitive rugby, it would always be with Munster (and that would be over Ireland).
However, I wouldn’t want to if the blueprint was similar to how they have played over the last 10 seasons.
Now, if I could play in a red jersey and do so with the same ideology as Leinster and Connacht... that would be a whole different ball game and I would be the happiest rugby player on the planet. I wouldn’t even mind if we lost.
Well, that’s a lie actually, I’d be disgusted!
In order to succeed, you must be prepared to fail. It’s something I am only starting to understand in my latter years. I don’t think Munster have broached this philosophy yet because nothing has really changed over the last decade.
Munster rugby has always been famous for a forward-dominated style and it seems that every coach that comes in seems to think they have some kind of obligation to maintain this. It begs the question: How do they spend their time on the training field?
I’d imagine the Johann van Graan pre-training chat starts:
‘Right lads, today we will have Conor Murray kicking the ball as high as he possibly can from the base of every scrum, line-out, and break down. Earlsy, you and the fastest flanker we have will chase after it like cheetahs and if we win it back, we will pass it to the first forward who gets there and keep doing that until we knock it on, they turn it over, or after 46 phases of inching our way forward, we manage to score or eke out a penalty.
‘We will do this all day and from every area of the field until everyone fully understands that this is the only play we have.’
As for the out-half and the centres?
‘Don’t worry, I’ll be issuing you guys with gloves and leggings. I hear that Galway place is very cold and I’m sure when Bundee Aki comes hurtling down your channels, your shoulders will get well warmed up...’
Meanwhile, in the Connacht dressing room, Andy Friend will be reminding his players that the modern game will favour the side who looks to play with imagination, and he will be encouraging his players to take risks and look to play an all-inclusive brand.
Jack Carty, who in my estimation is the second-best fly-half in the country, is a doubt, but should he manage to play he’ll have a big say in how this game pans out.
At 29 years of age Carty should have way more than 10 international caps to his name and now that the misfortunate Joey Carberry has picked up yet another serious injury, Carty is in prime position to play back-up to Johnny Sexton for the Six Nations.
Up front Connacht may not have the household names that Munster have in their armoury, but just watch how they work tirelessly as a pack. If they emerge second best after this game, it will not be because of a lack of effort, it will be because the Munster forwards have played their best game of the season.
These are the games that the men from the west embrace with open arms and don’t be surprised if the visitors are left licking their wounds after this one.