Malcolm O'Kelly: Brilliant rivalry throws up another epic clash
Malcolm reflects on what was a magnificent clash between Munster and Leinster and looks ahead to the Heineken cup quarter-finals next weekend.
Like most rugby fans in Ireland on Saturday evening, I was glued to the television for the Munster v Leinster game and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. It was a really thrilling game and you could tell right from the off that the two teams were really up for it.
The first half an hour was all about flexing the muscles really, there were precious few balls being thrown out to the back line. In fact, the first thing Leinster did was hoist a big Garryowen and you could tell at that stage that it wasn’t going to be about flair or spinning the ball wide, it was always going to be about muscle, grunt and territory and who was going to come out on top in the tight battles.
Obviously, Munster were very up for it, they had a kind of backs against the wall mentality about them and must be given massive credit for the way they came back in the second half.
From a Leinster perspective, I feel I should mention the exquisiteness of the execution of their try, a coach’s dream try straight out of a playbook.
I think one of the main reasons they came back into the game after half time was because Leinster gave them the opportunities to do so and allowed them to get territory. In the first half, I thought Leinster dealt pretty well with what Munster had to offer, but at the same time I think it would be harsh to say that Munster weren’t firing in the first half. I certainly thought they were and they were really physical throughout the contest.
In the second half, they got more opportunities; in fact, from the very first kick off after the break they launched another restart into the wheelhouse, competed well and won the ball. It proved a fruitful tactic all night for them as again and again Leinster coughed up ball in this area and Cullen and company will be working hard in training to shore that deficiency up.
In the early exchanges Leinster, knowing Munster’s game inside out, dealt well with their forward drives from the likes of Dave Wallace and Paul O’Connell. You could see in the first half that anytime Paul O’Connell got the ball that Leinster looked to absolutely nail him and they did on a few occasions. There was very little space out there and Munster played into Leinster’s strong defence with a lot of one-off plays.
I thought though, in the second half as the game loosened, it was the lesser known James Coughlan that asked questions of Leinster’s defence, especially off the back of the scrum where he looked very dynamic and I could understand the merit of his selection. Damien Varley too worked hard throughout, getting some good hard yardage in the second half.
From a Leinster perspective, I feel I should mention the exquisiteness of the execution of their try, a coach’s dream try straight out of a playbook. It is rare to see at this level backrow plays working so seamlessly like that and it deserved the cut throat finish it got.
An ode to Shaggy
I have to pay tribute to Shane Horgan, who marked the occasion of his 200th cap with that magnificent try. It was probably Shane’s biggest game since he came back from injury; he would have been gutted to miss out on the Six Nations, but to finish off a try like that in the manner that he did showed he has lost none of his sharpness and killer instinct that separates him from the majority – he even managed to burn Keith Earls as well which is no mean feat! I can’t sing the man’s praises enough; he really is a quality finisher.
Shane Horgan celebrates scoring Leinster's 'exquisite' try
The only injury was to Paul O’Connell who damaged an ankle. It’s unfortunate but it is common and can happen to second rows all the time in training or in matches. Coming down off lineouts in traffic, it is all too easy to land on a foot and when you combine that with the height from which you have come and the speed in which you land, you can imagine what damage you can do!
Strap your ankles!
Ouch, I feel your pain; it is a case of closing the gate after the horse has bolted, but next time STRAP YOUR ANKLES! That’s a piece of advice I would give to any second rows coming through regardless of whether you have rolled your ankle or not I can guarantee you eventually will. Note to self: I should perhaps give a strapping course to young up and comers as I have been doing it as long as I can remember.
The commentators were saying afterwards that the lifters in the lineout let him go in the air, but that’s the way rugby is, you have to look after yourself and strap up your ankles in the dressing room before the game. Paulie was unlucky and I’m sure he’ll be strapping his ankles in future, but at the very worst, I would imagine that the ligament might be torn from the bone and he will be out for six weeks.
Hopefully it will be only four or five weeks, because Paulie has had it tough with injuries of late and was really coming back into form. It’s a big blow for Munster at this stage of the season, but they’re pretty well covered with the likes of Mick O’Driscoll available to replace him. I don’t think his absence will affect Ireland too much in the long run as I’d say he’ll be ready well in time for the World Cup warm up matches in the autumn.
Looking ahead to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals next weekend, there was plenty to take for Leinster from the Munster game as that’s the sort of intensity they will have to play with.
Leicester will be similar to Munster in terms of the physicality they bring to the table, they’re a very smart, shrewd side, they’re going to be very tough to breakdown and Leinster are really going to have to bring their A game if they’re going to come out on top.
With regard to Ulster, I think they always had the beating of Scarlets on Friday night and the scoreboard probably made it look closer than it actually was, with Scarlets getting a try in the last minute to make it a bit tighter, but Scarlets are a difficult side to come up against so it was an impressive win.
Massive opportunity for Ulster
They are going to have to lift their performance against Northampton, but the good thing is they have been winning matches; they’ve been eking out wins and have learned what it takes to do so, even if it means winning ugly at times. At the end of the day, Northampton are just another team and are definitely beatable.
They have struggled without some of their key players at times this season, but unfortunately for Ulster, all the key players, the likes of Chris Ashton and Ben Foden, are back and Ulster will have to make sure that they nullify those threats. I do think Ulster are capable of winning the game, they’ve showed they can win away from home and they have a great opportunity to make it to the semi-final.
Putting my head on the block, I would definitely say Leinster to win and I’m afraid I’ll sit on the fence with Ulster and Northampton. If I was pushed, I’d probably say Northampton will win with a narrow victory but that’s more my head saying it than my heart because I would love to see Ulster do well. It’s a tough one to call, but I think both games will be absolute crackers and I’m really looking forward to them.