You often hear it said that certain things “Aren’t worth the paper they’re written on”. Well, moral victories aren’t even written on paper. If they were, it may as well be used toilet paper. Even the most ardent Munster fan must surely be sick of patronising platitudes at this stage in relation to their (not so) recent record against their great rivals.
It was felt – and legitimately so – that not only was Munster’s need greater to win their opportunity was too. Simply as the aristocrats had left a lot of their heavy artillery at home. Though in truth no matter what configuration Leo Cullen sends out it tends to be laden with worldly performers.
However, as has often been the case previously, there was an air around Thomond Park that it was going to be one of those nights in the storied field. Thus, even when Ross Byrne slotted an early penalty for the visitors, there would’ve been no immediate panic because once Graham Rowntree’s charges had wrestled back possession, it allowed them to turn to what should be patented as Munster policy.
That is to say, gather possession and thereafter proceed through God knows how many phases of pick-and-drive which generally yields something. Mind you, such a strategy was only possible in this instance due to the early dominance of Dave Kilcoyne and, in particular, John Ryan, at the scrum and breakdown.
As a result of which the home side registered their first five point score of the game when the industrious and burgeoning Gavin Coonbes burrowed his way through a phalanx of blue jerseys.
Somewhat surprisingly, Joey Carbery slotted the extras. Regrettably the profligacy of the error prone Leinster cast off undid the endeavours of his colleagues.
One would hope his days of having anything to do with place kicking may be numbered if Jack Crowley continues on his current career trajectory. Similar comments can also be attributed to the Conor Murray/Craig Casey situation.
The impish, diminutive scrum half, in my view, improved drastically the quality and speed of ball coming off the base of the scrum and in open play.
All of which enabled Munster to register further majors courtesy of a penalty try and a neat finish from former Cork Gaelic footballer Pa Campbell. The awarded try coming after Carbery had kicked astutely to the corner. Allowing his colleagues to do what they do best – maul majestically.
Mind you, those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. Ironically, Max Deegan’s departure to the Sin Bin for collapsing a maul was actually the jolt which stirred les bleus into action.
Tries followed via Dan Sheehan and Scott Penny and, crucially, both were converted by Byrne whereas, ultimately, Carbery’s inability to extract full value from Campbell’s crossing let the former’s ex employers off the hook.
Actually, it would be remiss to label Leinster’s victory as solely down to Munster’s shortcomings. The tables were, to some degree at least, turned as Luke McGrath and Byrne countered the best the half backs in red could muster. Backed, it must be said, by outstanding contributions – in the mind of this observer at least, from Deegan, Rhys Ruddock, Hugo Keenan and Garry Ringrose.
While it would be easy to concur with RTE columnist Johnny Holland’s view that those vanquished by their nemesis once again are indeed incrimentally closing the gap, the Leinster-Munster rivalry, and/or the Meath-Dublin one in GAA, must be treated in the same context as a darts match. First is first, second is nowhere.