Leinster and Munster show our game at its very best
Ireland could have between eight and 10 players in Lions squad
Munster's James Downey (top), Stephen Archer and Tommy O'Donnell tackle Seán O’Brien of Leinster during Saturday’s hectic RaboDirect Pro 12 encounter at Thomond Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
I’ve my homework done in advance of next week’s encounter in Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier, between Clermont and Munster and am very excited by the multitude of outcomes that might await us.
Even though Clermont are 10-point favourites over mighty Toulouse this week, Munster can still win next week.
Although Rob Penney will be deep in preparation for the trip I’m happy to wait till next Friday to share my thoughts.
With the furore this week I broke my golden rule: never re-watch a game as I watch too many games already. I find watching a match just the once forces me to pay greater attention to the events as they unfold.
If I knew a match I attended was being recorded at home I might slip into high emotion following one side or the other, or the ball. Hence like most in Thomond Park I watched events unfold in real time, without emotion but I had the benefit of a press monitor to unearth the many car crash events that had me enthralled.
I adored every minute, with massive hits and an amount of innocent off-the-ball niggles that were wonderful to watch. The multitude of phases (25?) that led to Brian O’Driscoll’s match-winning try was phenomenal from both sides.
Munster’s defence was immense, fronting up all along the line in torrid conditions with only a few days rest after the Stoop.
Likewise, Leinster's application, control and patience around the ball throughout those phases was extraordinary.
In those conditions the ball is often a liability but Leinster, “the best passing team in Europe” held on to the ball with a death-like grip until O’Driscoll crashed over.
It was a brilliant passage of play from both sides.
Additionally, time and talent when balanced correctly can nurture players well beyond common expectations. Ian Madigan has clearly blossomed over the weeks into a man who could conceivably keep Jonathan Sexton out of the Leinster team.
Another example is Stephen Archer, who has graced this column over the months. He had a very fine game, once more stepping up in very salubrious company.
If Joe Schmidt gets the Ireland job and goes with Madigan for the remaining Leinster games he will damage relations with Sexton next season.
If not successful then he has more loyalty to Madigan, knowing Sexton will be in France next year. But this would be a cruel blow to Sexton and his journey in blue and aspirations for the Lions Test slot. Interesting?
As for Archer, it goes to show how tighthead props need time and need to be beaten up in countless scrums before it all sinks in.
Munster’s frontrow turned the scrum magnificently in the Stoop and deserve huge credit; equally last Saturday, Archer’s scrum and general play.
The infamous shin has polarised opinion throughout the country, especially where I was having lunch this afternoon, which has sucked me into the argument.
One person suggested the ball-placer is responsible for his own safety and if he places the ball too close to his head he is to blame for the consequences.
Another suggested there was no intent and therefore getting bogged down in camera angles becomes far too forensic.
Finally, a third was very strong on player safety.
The circumstances and protagonists are almost irrelevant as the balance should always favour safety.
This is why we have rules of the road, referees and citing commissioners. These road safety rules ensure we remain vigilant to the dangers lurking around every corner and when the unexpected occurs we are prepared and react with care and attention.
Modern professional players simply don’t intend harm on others. Hence the key aspect has nothing to do with players; it is to do with safety, the laws and the governors of same, as represented most clearly by the citing commissioner whose decision this week has managed to polarise Irish rugby like never before.
Today is my last chance to comment on the Lions selection, due on April 30th.
For our players much has changed since the mixed Autumn series through the Six Nations malaise and into the magnificent play-offs.
Many Lions legends have been asked to give their Lions Test XV. Surely this is a flawed starting point and doesn’t reflect the changed nature of our game, which is now about a 23-man Test squad rather than the starting XV; it could also reduce our Irish input.
Clearly not knowing Warren Gatland’s approach I suggest working back from the 23 players. This is a foreign concept in Ireland where traditionally, the bench was made up of the next best player in each position.
For instance how many Irish would accept loosehead giant Mako Vunipola could make the tour? Clearly miles behind Gethin Jenkins and Cian Healy, he ninetheless has a massive bench impact. With the bench in mind, I believe between eight and ten Irish players will travel.