The fifth meeting in eight months of the old enemies could best be described as a strange game given that we had competing coaches peddling two very different agendas, in the short-term at least. Leo Cullen was no more upset in the immediate aftermath than Johann van Graan was relieved.
hat we witnessed was one full-strength team, for whom winning was a necessity not an option, against a mix and match opposition for whom game-time for some and exposure for others trumped any other pre-match goal.
In the end the one that had to win did and every bit as convincingly as the scoreline suggests, as Van Graan hit the nail when highlighting “just three points and zero tries conceded”. Yes it was competitive but only to a point.
There was no ‘new playing style’ as some commentators, who should know better, suggested but what we did witness was a playback to the Munster formula of old. This was a case, albeit against weakened opposition, of Munster doing what they still do best on their day and better than most when in that ruthless mood.
It may not sit easy with Leinster folk but on Saturday at the RDS the side in blue were bullied into submission.
That Munster were up for it was a given but the physicality at the breakdown, the line speed in defence and the pure desire to gobble up any loose ball at contact was at another level to what they had brought with them to the same venue a few weeks before.
We are not being overly-simplistic here but what is essential now is that Van Graan and his coaching team take this as a ‘must have’ starting point and develop an appropriate attacking formula from here.
In terms of the Rainbow Cup, currently being derided by some, I am excited at the possibilities I believe it will bring if, and when, Covid is under control and a sense of normality returns to the sporting fields as well. The quality of South African rugby’s top four provinces is immense.
To have Transvaal (Lions), Northern Transvaal (Bulls), Western Province (Stormers) and Natal (Sharks) fully immersed in the dead duck that is the PRO14 in its current guise is salivating. And yes it could be a while before an Irish side, even Leinster, comes out on top, such is the quality of the South African sides set to come on board.
But for now it is what it is and we should be on bended knee thanking the Lord for what we are witnessing in these unprecedented times even if that was another meeting between Munster and Leinster.
But back to this latest head-to-head. Just how wise was the path chosen by Cullen, Stuart Lancaster et al will become a lot clearer in six days’ time when Ronan O’Gara, Jono Gibbes and this still emerging, but hugely exciting, La Rochelle come firmly into view.
While it was a poor standard game that will not matter a jot to Munster. For Peter O’Mahony and the rest the psychological benefit should be enormous. The trick is in keeping it in perspective given what Leinster at full strength would have brought. With 13 changes from the team that lined out at Exeter I think little elaboration is necessary.
But as they say you can only play what’s in front of you and that Munster did ruthlessly. In particular there were big performances from Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne, O’Mahony, Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander as well as both centres Damian de Allende and Chris Farrell with the former, without doubt, the outstanding individual on the night.
For Leinster it was really tough for their rookies specifically Hugh O’Sullivan and Cormac Foley (in his limited time) at scrum-half. The breakdown was a mess, not helped by officialdom I might add, and that suited Munster. They made hay and won with conviction.
Pity David Hawkshaw too, thrown in after six minutes alongside his ex-Belvedere College team-mate O’Sullivan. Minus Luke McGrath, Jamison Gibson-Park, Johnny Sexton, Ross Byrne and then Byrne Jnr (Harry) having to depart in a match where clean ball at the breakdown was at a premium which made for a hiding to nothing.
All that said, and even allowing for the absence of Robbie Henshaw, De Allende was superb. He is a class act unique in that he can batter down doors as well as pick locks. He has the potential to become a Munster great in the Trevor Halstead/Rua Tipoki/Lifeimi Mafi mould. All he and the rest need now is ambition and the license to play.