Obviously I’m biased but, for me, it wasfantastic to see all the old Munster values and traditions were still there.
There are a number of teams who will be pleased with the momentum they got going in the Champions Cup over the lastfortnight and after two rounds I think you would be looking at Northampton, Saracens, Munster, Leinster, Toulon, Clermont, Racing and Toulouse as the likely candidates for success with Glasgow and Ospreys as dark horses.
The key, as always, is home advantage. It’s huge and we saw it with Munster against Saracens last Friday night. Northampton are a different proposition in Franklin’s Gardens and Saracens will be on their 4G pitch while I would be hugely surprised if Glasgow were turned over at home. The same applies to Clermont.
On the flip side, Toulon’sperformance at Ravenhill against Ulster was a timely reminder of why they’ve won it twice in a row. They don’t seem to have lost any of their hunger and their performances have probably been upped, if anything.
To beat Ulster on their home turf having lost Matt Giteau in the first half and to do it in the manner they did speaks volumes for their environment and culture and the way they recruit and they are even more impressive back at Stade Mayol, where the people are mad for their rugby.
That was also what was so pleasing about Munster’s win over Saracens at Thomond Park. At Racing on Saturday morning as we met to fly off to Treviso, everyone was just in awe of what they saw on Friday night.
We’d previewed some clips of Munster at Treviso and also Munster-Ospreys which was in an empty stadium and people were asking ‘is that Munster?’ So then to see it on Friday night for the Saracens game, it highlighted why Munster is so special.
Munster destroyed Saracens and I think the tightness from them was brilliant but the flakiness of Saracens was there for all to see. Saracens have been very impressive but how they crumbled under pressure was a bit of a surprise to me. A lot of their pack seemed as if they just didn’t want to know when the heat came on.
Maybe that’s what happens when you lose two finals. They lost to Northampton in injury-time of extra-time of the Premiership final and then were blown away by Toulon in the Heineken Cup and it’s hard to come back from that. Winning just one of those would have been massive because then they’d know what winning feels like but to have that dejection twice hurts badly.
We lost two semis in 2009/10 but we’d already won the Heineken Cup twice and anyway, semi-finals are different, you don’t have the graphic image of the opposition lifting the cup in front of you. Lose a semi and you can just disappear.
But for Saracens trying to bounce back and win in Europe this year won’t be easy because this is a tougher competition. And from what I saw of them at Thomond Park I’d say they were very disappointed about how they went about it on the night.
Just kicking to Munster and Felix Jones in particular is just meat and drink to him.
Obviously I’m biased but, for me, it was fantastic to see all the old Munster values and traditions were still there and even though Saracens knew what was coming, when the moment came they just couldn’t handle it.
In last week’s column, I wrote that the crowd support was the important factor and they didn’t disappoint. It’s a basic, simple ingredient at any level of sport, being driven by the home fans.
Not just attending and sitting there but actually participating and in Munster that’s what laid the platform for so much success.
Leinster also have two wins from two and yet people seem to be giving them an awful amount of criticism. People have to realise they’re a very different Leinster to the teams that won three European titles. There are not the same players, not the same coach and they’re crippled with injuries. They’re missing Cian Healy, Mike Ross, Marty Moore, Sean O’Brien and Shane Jennings, who I think is very underrated. They’re missing the Kearneys and FergusMcFadden, a hugely important player for them and then of course there’s no Sexton, O’Driscoll, Cullen and Nacewa.
So to beat Wasps at home and then Castres away, people should be delighted. They will beat Harlequins and Castres at home so they’re looking at a win at either Wasps or Quins, neither trip posing them any fears, and they’ll top their group.
It may not be of the same quality of previous Leinster teams but the one thing know about the Irish provinces is that when it comes to Europe, they will always have the required fight.
Ian Madigan grabbed all the points for Leinster in Castres, given the kicking duties yet not handed the number 10 jersey and to me he is an interesting figure. Jimmy Gopperth is a tidy out-half but there’s obviously something during the week that Matt O’Connor sees that makes him feel Madigan isn’t the man to steer the ship.
From Madigan’s point of view that must be difficult to understandbecause he did the restarts against Castres, he was kicking at goal, so he’s doing a lot of duties an out-half is meant to do and yet he’s not playing No 10.
From a coaching standpoint, though, I would completely understand that because what’s crucial in a number 10 is game management and if you have a 10 that’s weak in that area it’s going to crucify your team. I don’t know, because I haven’t seen enough of Madigan there, how he manages the game.
At Leinster, it was Johnny Sexton who managed the game and then last year it was Gopperth who did it and got the job in the Pro12 final against Glasgow and did it well.
This season we haven’t seen Madigan in the role in any big games which begs the question, what if something happens to Sexton in the November Tests?
Paddy Jackson has clearly lost the number two spot. That leaves you with a number 10 who has rarely played in the position for his club and then Ian Keatley.
With Sexton starting, Joe Schmidt will definitely opt for Madigan’s versatility on the bench for the South Africa Test next Saturday, providing cover at 10, 12 and 15. But if a fella doesn’t start consistently at 10 for his club team, how can he start there for his country?
I can completely understand the bench element to it but Madigan will know deep down that to be considered as an international out-half he needs to be playing there for his club. There’s no-one else in the world doing that. Beauden Barrett and Aaron Cruden are Dan Carter’s back-ups in the All Blacks and they are starting for their Super XV teams every week so that gives them the opportunity to have a shot and when they’ve got it they’ve done really well.
It’s very hard, no matter how talented Madigan is, to play 12 at your club and then all of a sudden go up several levels from Pro12 to playing fly-half against the Springboks.
That’s just putting huge pressure on the guy and, believe me, you need time to grow in that number 10 jersey.
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