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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 17, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

    Munster need to go back to their roots

    Carl O'Malley

    Backs against the wall. Even Hellboy couldn't save Munster in Toulon!

    Backs against the wall. Even Hellboy couldn't save Munster in Toulon!

    Let’s face it, Munster’s demise has been coming and could be seen a long way off. The only thing that kept the naysayers a little more muted than usual was the fact it was the great red machine they were talking down.
    There was always a niggling feeling that no matter how evident it was that Munster’s star was on the wane, they were still capable of confounding us all one more time before the end came.

    Not this time. That’s it. The juggernaut ran out of juice at the Stade Felix Mayol yesterday, stuttering to a halt in the face of the type of mullering it used to dish out to poor unfortunate has-beens.

    It’s too much to ask the likes of John Hayes, David Wallace, Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, Ronan O’Gara and Peter Stringer to keep that sort of momentum up and, unlike Leinster, they have not done enough to produce the back-up to those key players over recent years.

    Looking at Munster’s squad, they have wasted a generation of talent because they have relied too heavily on their stalwarts. Those who are now considered the future are themselves getting on a bit.

    Niall Ronan? 28. Damien Varley? 27. Donnacha Ryan? 27.  James Coughlan? 30.

    Ian Nagle, for instance, might not be long-term answer, but at least the 22-year-old has a career ahead of him and time to improve, unlike Mick O’Driscoll. He put his hand-up with a man-of-the-match performance against Australia in the autumn and has barely featured since.

    The ‘golden generation’ of Irish players were so known, not because they were protected from top flight rugby at an early age, but because they were given a taste and trusted to perform, while being allowed to make mistakes.

    That is what Leinster have done with Cian Healy, Jonathan Sexton and Seán O’Brien and it is what they are beginning to do with Ian Madigan, Andrew Conway and Dominic Ryan.

    Some might argue that Munster are top of the Magners League and their Heineken Cup pool was as tough as they come, but they performed on all fronts before, mainly because of the superhuman efforts of younger men. They cannot count on that anymore, because those players have given enough to the cause. Some of them have given everything to the cause.

    Dropping O’Connell into a game like that after such a long lay-off was an act of desperation.

    If rumours of Munster signing Ma Nonu after the World Cup are anywhere near the truth, the hole they have dug themselves will only deepen. Tony McGahan and his team need to rediscover what it was that made Munster great and then go about recreating it.

    Their game needs to evolve too but a return to their roots and the Academy must be the base.

    • robespierre says:

      I am a Leinster fan. I have waxed and waned in my sentiments towards Munster over the years but like the Irishman foreseeing his death at this stage no unlikely death brings me loss nor leaves me happier than before.

      It is a little like attending your first bullfight – there is a tremendous sense of dissappointment when the bull starts stumbling around messily before it eventually is killed (the clean kills are by better matadors later in the bill – you first fight is inevitably a messy death).

      Munster still have talent but they are guilty of a lack of ambition over the last few years since they last won it. The game moved away from Munster at the highest level and they have struggled to adapt to that. They still have a decent (aging) back row, good (if overrated at this stage) second rows, a good pair of scrum halves, an excellent out half and back-up, one good winger, two decent utility backs but no good centres, props or hookers (Flannery is completely crocked – he’ll retire this summer).

      5 players out of 15 to be sub magners league level is a lot of players. They need to get viable players for the centres and two new complete, competitive front rows. BJ Botha on his own won’t solve the problem if he moves. They also need some vision and skill in midfield that they have lacked since Tipoki retired.

    • James O says:

      Munster’s academy is not producing top quality backs – I don’t remember when it ever was. Apart from the obvious quality in the half back department and Keith Earls it’s probably fair to say that nothing homegrown has emerged which could be considered much above average. Munster’s success was based on keeping it tight and hitting the corners, not throwing it around like a hot potato in our own half like we seem to be trying to do over the last two years. Prospects for next season look even grimmer with ROG a year older and Warwick moving on – Ian Keatley can’t fill those shoes

    • Rob says:

      don’t like to dance on graves or anything – and there is probably a great deal of luck to the players Leinster have unearthed – but with the exception of Earls (who is far from finished article) – i’m struggling to pick the young talent in Munster! Munster branch have seen this one coming for a long time – and it seems they just seem dead set on replacing Tipoki with Mafi with Tuitpo! They have more schools rugby than Ulster or Connaught but I don’t see the results of this anywhere! need to up their game and quick!

    • Richard H says:

      its not the end!!! it is the start of the rebuilding!! this team will need a few years to rebuild the bull has done himself and ireland and munster proud but is to old for the game! Buckley has failed to impress! Ian Dowling has been missed hes not the fastest or most eye catching player but he is what munster are about he will never make a mistake! its hard to compare leinster and munster leinster tried to play the way we are now 10 years ago and we were known s the pretty boys with no fire in the belly!! if cheika had not been our coach for 5 years they wouldn’t be as good as they are now but with the grit in the forwards the backs and forward are all able to win and throw around the ball so it might not be a quick fix! but the loyal fans will have to wait till the hole team redefines them selves with young blood! the magners league can deceive munster played the same safe rugby all season and are 10 points ahead leinster developed players at the start of the season and practice thier skills and with johnny back running the show we never looked back! how many munster players do u think will start against italy??? possible 3 maybe 4 max they would be varley, earls maybe and johnny murphy then a second row don’t think paul has enough game time so o’callaghan might get a spot think leo is lookin for a spot and deserves one tonner is the future and ulsters touhy had a massive game this weekend varley will be picked if best is injured which is likely he is more rounded than croinin earls and trimble and mc fadden for the 11 shirt and johnny murphy vs fitz for 15 fitz has so little game time unless he starts next weekend can’t see him gettin it!! ok this is gettin long.. 1 healy 2 varley 3 ross 4 cullen 5 touhy 6 ferris 7 o’brien 8 heaslip 9 reddan 10 sexton 11 trimble 12 darcy 13 bod 14 bowe 15 murphy agree???

    • Marcus says:

      I am an Irish fan would supports our provences although when a head to head it is Leinster first, Connacht second, Munster third…
      Beside the sadness of watching Munster degenerate I feel it is a shame that some of their Greats will have their reputations tarnished by not knowing when to hang up their boots. How long since John Hayes was referred to as “The Bull”. What a player. It is just a shame that now he is not even competitive at this level. Personally I do not think it is fair to him, his reputation, the younger players who cannot get their chance… How do we expect to uncover the next “Bullock”. I guess this is a long way of saying that Munster need to focus on the Academy. I hope they don’t wait any longer.

    • OWEN in perth says:

      What tosh and nonsense, Munster met a better team on the day in front of a home crowd and frankly the tatics of playing a running game on that type of ground was wrong. The real worry for a irish rugby is if the Leinster brain trust gets to pick the irish team again and we wind the clock back to that era. I still hope Leinster win it and that is who i will support.

    • Michael says:

      I hate to put a dampener on the teleology, but who here would disagree that had Munster a decent scrummaging tight-head they’d have beaten the Ospreys away and be close to through to the knock-out stages? They may even have avoided losing yesterday, or picked up a bonus point in defeat. How many penalties or periods of pressure came from the hopeless scrum? Is anyone willing to dispute that continuously being annihilated in the scrum has a decisive effect on the momentum and dominance of your pack?

      There is no denying that this team is ageing, nor that Munster’s back play has actually gone backwards since the high point of the Osprey’s quarter final in 09. However, neither point means that this team was destined to lose on Sunday nor that the backbone of the pack is finished, nor that they should have been replaced earlier by other, younger players.

      For the first point, the scrum as I mentioned above was the decisive factor in Munster not reaching the quarters. Insofar as back-play is concerned: backs look bad playing behind a beaten pack, mainly because they have no go-forward ball. Get that Munster pack parity in the scrum and you can be sure the backs will start to look dangerous and grow in confidence. Earls, Warwick, O’Gara, O’Leary, Howlett; these are very dangerous and talented players. They are indeed more talented than the Horgan/Mullins/Kelly era, just that the pack in front of them has suffered of late. As Liam Toland, probably the best rugby writer in the country argued, the scrum was the one factor that could upset Munster’s superiority over Toulon and that came to pass.

      Secondly, O’Connell is several years younger than Simon Shaw, so is O’Callaghan, the latter has before today played extremely well. Wallace is abut the age Quinlan was a few seasons ago at his height and has shown this season that he still has the ball carrying dynamism, not least with his try yesterday. Leamy is still under thirty, Varley a powerful, courageous if unspectacular hooker in the typical Munster mould. Coughlan is no weakness in terms of collisions, effort, rucking and ball-carrying. The biggest difference between Munster and the two other main provinces is that we haven’t bought as well in the prop department and worked to keep Hayes going and to develop Buckley with an eye to Ireland’s needs. We’ve paid for it. But if one anchoring prop is put in place and injuries/suspensions don’t cripple us, this pack has the basis to be dominant again for at least another season.

      Lastly, the likes of Nagle, O’Donnell, Mike Sherry are coming through, mostly from Cork. The Limerick production line has not fired in recent years. Munster have no problem giving youngsters a chance, if they are good enough. This is why this article infuriated me. O’Leary for Stringer; Leamy for Wallace and eventually Foley, Hurley for Payne, Dowling for Horgan/Kelly. The fact is that Ronan, Coughlan, Buckley, Donnacha Ryan, Varley et al were not as good as the men in possession and were never going to be. A case in point: Quinlan was 33 in 2008; should he have been dropped to blood younger players as others were dropped to blood him (Halvey)? No, Quinlan was Munster’s player of the season. The simple fact is that you replace the older men when the younger become better or show promise of being better. Development does not make players great alone, they must have the underlying talent or else you’re hurting yourself for no good reason. They had the opportunities in the Magners, as Leamy had. The latter was good enough to take his, so was O’Leary. The others were not. It was simply a case of a production line not functioning in the near-miraculous way it had. No one can be blamed.

      It is the end of an era of Munster. Hayes is indeed finished. Quinlan is in likely his last season. Flannery may never play again, Horan hasn’t been the same player since the heart problem, Wallace probably only has a season to go. But Munster’s pack dominance was never just about raw talent: it was about team spirit, in-built aggression and ambition. Foley, Langford, Galway, Sheahan – these were fine players but not in the mould of Heaslip, O’Connell or O’Kelly. It was head not body that made Munster great: that’s why we always “defied the odds” – because by simple man-for-man talent we were always less than the best of the opposition. Essentially, we won’t be as good as we were in May ’08, but we were unreal then. We’ll just be unbelievable again now, until the next crop come through.

    • part time punk says:

      Have to agree with the article. Their great Heineken cup run had to end some time just as Ulster’s poor run had to. I think it could actually be a good thing for them, a chance to re-group, re-focus, develop new talent, hire and fire etc. rather than paper over the ever-widening cracks. What’s needed is a combination of new Munster/Irish players and a couple of imports in some positions. Also the undoubted talents of rising stars like Earls need to be coached and developed properly and I’d love to see him fix upon one position, whether it be centre, wing of full back. Otherwise he runs the risk of ending up a utility back squad player as opposed to a starting 15 player … Also just to add to your list of aging up and coming future players, don’t forget Tony Buckley (30)

    • Larry says:

      Agree it i is not the end of Munster, to much tradition, but it may be the end of many of the supporters who have jumped on board in recent years. Munster do need to get back to the pride and passion that would have attracted anyone to watch them. The forward difficulties are clear but backs need surgery too. Tipoki was fabulous and not had his boots filled, before him there was Trevor Halstead. I was disappointed but not surprised the lack of imagination has been clear for a while. The club have not adapted to the way the game has changed.
      This could be the best thing for them and Irish rugby too in the long run after a painful process of change. The coaches and senior players I have no doubt will examine where they are and start to make the changes.
      looking forward to some more great matches with Munster in the future.
      i am sure there is plenty in the Academy they just need time to show what they can do.

    • I have been watching rugby a long long time I find the majority of articles written about the game currently, poor and lacking in perspective and depth. I am afraid to say Paul O’ Connell is very much overrated and I take no pleasure is saying this whatsoever. He was a calamity at the last World Cup. He lacks real genuine natural strength – you can only get so far on manufactured bulk- stay away from the weights rooms Paul that is where you gain bulk not strength. I have watched O’Connell for years being shoved pushed and bullied especially by Southern Hemisphere players. He will be eaten alive if he lines out against any of the Southern Hemisphere players at this stage of his career come September. He is a moderate talent at best who is very much on the wane. I wonder will Mr Kidney look beyond the hidebound rugby mindset of previous administrations come this September. The Heineken Cup is all very pleasant but dull and our Six Nations victory was magical. However the World Cup will be the acid test for this team and its management. This group of players can only be considered as great as the media would have us believe if they can defeat New Zealand. New Zealand is where the bar is, anything else Heineken Cups, Six Nations are academic and will be forgotten World Cup performances remain. This current New Zealand team will be something to behold come this September. New Zealand will exceed expectations but Ireland has the ability to defeat them and I am not saying this lightly but we must pick our best players in order to do so. This is our golden opportunity

    • gerry says:

      Carl – Nonu rumours are rubbish. He is contracted to NZ until the end of 2012 season. I thought Paul O’Connell put in a very decent shift on Sunday. You certainly wouldn’t know it was his first full game in 10 months. Why was it an act of desperation?

      With regard to Munster producing talented backs – hurling (and gaelic football in Kerry) will always be first in Munster. Quite a few of the Munster players (all forwards) are failed gaelic footballers. Not too many great rugby players coming from Kilkenny, are there? Hurling is king there because they are so successful.

    • gerry says:

      @Paddy O’Reilly.
      I presume you think we should drop O’Connell for Bob Casey!

      How well did Ireland do during the AIs without him? Matfield attributed SA’s win to the absence of O’Connell.
      “We all know the class that Paul O’Connell has got,” he said.

      He has also stated that Paul O’Connell has been his toughest opponent. Praise indeed from someone who has been around for a while and who plays NZ a couple of times a year!

    • Noel Swanton says:

      We are listening to this crap for years Munster lost two finals they were finished, they won a final followed it up with a poor season, they were finished then, they won another final and they have been finished every year since, change the record. Every team wants an endless supply of talented players coming through even the English national team cant produce them from there pool of players (they are getting closer). Great players have retired and more great players will retire, Munster is not going anywhere. It was a good tough group until London Irish lost the plot midway through the season every team was looking at 3 home wins each and the bonus points would have decided the group. London Irish could not hold up there end of the bargain.

    • Richard H says:

      Is kidney not watching rugby and players form what as gavin duffy done this season nothing and mc fadden not in the squad what as ruddock done this season not as much as ryan how has he got a back row place ahead surely he is not picking on form??? at least he has dropped buckley but touhy is a better prospect than mick o’drisscol really disappointed with the squad!!

    • gavin says:

      Look it all sounds logical what you say. but looking on from afar, I think there is a bit more to it than than that. Nothing lasts for ever and why should Munster be any different? As a number of the commentors say, with more knowledge than I can, a number of the players you call out are younger than you give them credit for.
      Sure Leinster are in the ascendency, but that’s the rotating nature of anything. Good luck to them!
      Perhaps we’ll never win another European Cup, perhaps we might. But don’t discount us! There’s still gold in them hills!

    • Shane, Dublin says:

      @Noel – I find this ‘Munster will be back because they’re Munster’ analysis very weak, I’ve been listening to it all week. The 06 & 08 H Cup winning team was based around a core of great, hard-nosed players with a winning mentality: O’Gara, O’Connell, Hayes, O’Callaghan, Quinlan, Wallace, Flannery and Horan. Every one of those is well into their 30s and it is clear they are not going to improve any time soon. Where is the core of players that will fill their boots? Ronan? Caughlan? Ryan? Buckley? Are they as good as the players they are replacing? Hardly. Munster will of course be back, but it could be a few seasons before they are strong again, because they have failed to develop the next generation. This process needs to start now.

      And no team has ever gone on to the knockout stages with three away defeats- it was always going to require an away win to go through. The group wasn’t that tough – Irish and Ospreys were there for the taking.

    • Bill Spencer says:

      Hi……….any blip at all in the Munster performance and the Dublin media have a field day. Munster’s success has been based on traditional rugby…….forward power, play in the opposition red zone……i.e. keep them on the back foot…….maul/ruck over the line or quick release to overlapping backs. Easy! The frustration that you see amongst
      Munster players is the insistence of McGahan etc in playing a ball popping 15 man game…..this i’m told is the future!
      /progress. So we reached 12 HC QFs and won 2 HC ….beat the best in Europe….players happy with the system
      supporters on a high………WHY CHANGE! If McGahan + cannot see the logic maybe it’s time for him to go! A further
      prob with Munster management is the buying policy…………De Villers, Sammy + couple of imported forwards not
      up to our standard……..likewise we let Sean Cronin & Carr go to Leinster. Somebody is asleep on the job! Panic! Time for major surgery! No! …………..just back to basics………….C’MON MUNSTER………….Bill

    • Declan, Dublin says:

      You write them off at your peril. Never underestimate Munster. I for one won’t write any obituaries yet, nor gloat like some of my Leinster coleagues, I’ve been burnt too many times previously

    • Seanie fITZ says:

      last Sunday in Toulon it was apparent after 20mins that Munsters game plan was not working, their game has become predictable. in the past Munster had leaders on the field that had the ability and intelligence to “read” a game as it was happening and, if things were not working, make any necessary tactical changes, the likes of Foley, Jim Williams, Mick Galwey, John Langford come to mind. we no longer have players like that!
      however it is not all doom and gloom, 1 or 2 additions to the squad, O’Connell to get a run of matches, maybe a change in some of the many many many many coaches/sdvisors/liasion officers etc could see improvements
      oh, one last monkey on the munster shoulders, they need to beat Leinster!

    • @ gerry. It’s a case of our Southern Hemisphere friends playing a game of reverse psychology – Do you honestly expect them to tell the truth about Paul and have us replace him with a better player to their detriment. The Kiwis, Ozzys and Bocks very wily and cunning when it comes to the game, so don’t get out foxed by them and Rugby is an extremely complex game to be assessed on many many levels. You have made some valid points in your comments but I don’t see the relevance of your observations concerning the GAA?? You sound a bit too cranky for a young fella, I am worried about you. Don’t take all this too seriously it’s not worth it but I have to complement you on your obvious passion for the game.
      As for some of the other contributions again I have to complement you all on your extremely knowledgeable observations. I don’t feel there is any anti – Munster sentiment here .I am a Munster man myself and proud of it, lets not develop a chip on our shoulder here lads- but we all must face up to reality and form our opinions independently and objectively. I am unfortunate enough to be stationed in Dublin at the moment and there is not any anti- Muster feeling here at all – NONE. Munster Rugby is held in the highest esteem in the capital and that is factual.
      However let’s not fall out over this we are all Rugby fans and I assume Irishmen and we all want what’s best for the game domestically but let’s hope above all internationally.
      Heineken Cups will long since be forgotten there will be another one next year and the year after that and the year after that and it keeps all the advertising and the big lads in the IRFU in a job and well rewarded. However the World Cup could lift the whole nation and I am sure we would all agree that the place needs a bit of a bit of a shunt at the moment. Let’s look at the big picture.

    • Des says:

      Why have the Munster lads who played agaist the All Blacks in 2008 and the Wallabies in 2010 not been brought through? I think you’ll find some props amongst that bunch too..Munster will have to mix in the young players although some talented players (Felix Jones is one) need to bulk up for top class rugby beforehand.

      It will be interesting to findout how Connacht’s new arrangement will work regarding being used as a development side exposing some players from the ‘big three’ to regular high caliber opponents. If a player is young enough and talented enough ….play him!

      O’Connell should not have been started against Toulon…O’Driscoll was ‘in form’. I too think Flannery is a spent force. Are we going to have go through watching great players decline because they or the coach cant call it a day?
      Remember the great Mike Gibson? They (Ireland) played him until he looked half the player he was (and that was still good)…watchout BOD.
      On the bright side, there’s a lot of talented young players emerging , both forwards and backs which bodes well. The average age of the Leinster backrow was 21 with O’Brien, Ryan and Rudduck…there’s Nagle emerging in Munster, O’Malley, Earls, Sexton, McFadden, Duncan Williams, Spence, Touhy etc. As soon as our indigenous players are ready, start them and bench the imports.


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