Farewell Cullen, hello Hurley

IT won’t have pleased Munster that they finished third of the four Irish teams in the Magners League, but there were some positives to take from Saturday’s comprehensive win over bogey side Glasgow Warriors.

After a disappointing season by their own lofty standards, Munster strung together three successive wins and did so with a measure of aplomb.

Alan Quinlan produced a compelling display, but coach Declan Kidney was also happy to watch Lifeimi Mafi and rookie full-back Denis Hurley add considerably to an accomplished team performance.

On the basis of this display by the 22-year-old full-back, Kidney will feel justified in not giving legendary full back Christian Cullen his last moments in a Munster jersey.

Many supporters were aggrieved that Cullen wasn’t in the match-day 22, but Kidney wasn’t in sentimental mood and used the game to further blood the talented Hurley. In the circumstances, neither he nor the fans were disappointed.

While Cullen, Trevor Halstead, Frankie Roche and Eoghan Hickey, who are also on the move, were all singled out for mention and applauded by the crowd at the half-time break, young Hurley was strutting his stuff on the pitch, not least when he sparked off the move that led to a crucial second-half try.

The coach explained his thinking on the Cullen debate as he praised the New Zealander for his contribution to Munster rugby these past four years.

“There was an obvious temptation to give him one last run, but the nature of it is that going forward, Denis had to start sometime as well. He played very well on the day that Christian retired. Of all people, I don’t think Christian would like to be seen to be holding Denis’s career back.”

Kidney said he would always be impressed by Cullen’s attitude. “You often only see the merit in a man in adversity. Christian had a long battle with injury, but he was hugely diligent in his training during those difficult times. He was always there looking for extra work, sometimes maybe trying to get back sooner than he should have.

“Not alone is he probably the greatest full-back ever to have played, but he has proved himself one strong powerful man in dealing with the difficulties he had to face. The important thing to remember here is to point to all the good days Christian has given to supporters right around the world.”

Even Cullen had to be impressed with some of Munster’s play on Saturday against opposition that never made it easy for them. Munster had to fight for everything they got and had to defend their line, particularly in the first half, against the aggressive visitors.

Munster were fortunate to survive one particular assault and will thank Tony Buckley for stopping a certain Glasgow try before launching a counter-offensive that ended with Mafi streaking over at the posts for a try that Ronan O’Gara converted.

Glasgow’s only first-half points came from the boot of Dan Parks, while Munster responded with a second penalty from O’Gara who converted a superb 37th minute try by Quinlan.

Parks kicked another penalty early in the second half, but Hurley played a starring role along with Mossy Lawlor and Tomás O’Leary before Quinlan grabbed his second try and O’Gara converted for a 24-6 lead.

Denis Leamy, courtesy of powerful scrummaging from Buckley and Federico Pucciariello, got a pushover try that O’Gara converted before Glasgow struck twice inside a minute with tries from John Beattie and Graeme Morrison, converted respectively by Colin Gregor and Parks.

With Glasgow sniffing a bonus point, Mafi’s chip over the line was chased by replacement Shaun Payne who got the touchdown inches from the dead ball line. Jeremy Manning added the points.

Kidney is aware that Munster will have to show considerable improvement next season, notwithstanding the fact a number of young players benefited from what he described as a learning curve in the past eight months.

MUNSTER: D. Hurley, I. Dowling, B. Murphy, L. Mafi, M. Lawlor, R. O’Gara, T. O’Leary, F. Pucciariello, F. Sheahan, T. Buckley, M. O’Driscoll, P. O’Connell (captain), A. Quinlan, A. Foley, D. Leamy.

Replacements: J. O’Sullivan for Foley (injured, 41), D. O’Callaghan for O’Driscoll (59), D. Fogarty for Sheahan (70), F. Roche for Pucciariello (74), J. Manning for O’Gara, S. Payne for Murphy (both 76), B. O’Meara for Lawlor (injured, 78).

GLASGOW: F. Leonelli, R. Lamont, G. Morrison, S. Barrow, T. Evans, D. Parks, G. Beveridge, J. Va’a, S. Lawson, M. Low, A. Newman, A. Kellock (captain), S. Swindall, J. Beattie, D. MacFadyen.

Replacements: K. Tkachuk for Va’a (46), C. Gregor for Beveridge (54), F. Thompson for Lawson, A. Wilson for MacFadyen, H. O’Hare for Evans (all 56), J. Barclay for Swindall, J. Eddie for Newman (both 62).

Referee: H. Watkins (Wales)

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