Tale of two chips shows up Munster deficiencies

Madigan chips and the Blues make hay; Hanrahan chips and the Reds lose their way

His Leinster team-mates were quick to react when Ian Madigan produced his outrageous chip in the RaboDirect Pro 12 game against Glasgow back in March. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

His Leinster team-mates were quick to react when Ian Madigan produced his outrageous chip in the RaboDirect Pro 12 game against Glasgow back in March. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho


‘Madigan, what was that, I’m not quite sure, is it going to work out . . . it does, that’s terrific play from Ian Madigan. High risk . . . I don’t know how quite they got away with that but they have and on they go’.

The Leinster outhalf’s chip as described in RTÉ’s commentary last March on Leinster’s Rabo match versus Glasgow. He was inside his dead ball area trying to prevent a potential five-metre scrum to Glasgow and played the odds uncomfortably like David Campese.

Fast forward to last Saturday in Edinburgh to an innocuous passage of play involving sub outhalf JJ Hanrahan that the Sky Sports commentary let slide without commentary.

But that passage tells much about Munster and is worth delving into. Munster had played poorly in many facets, but most notably the corridor of power and accuracy from lineout.

They had, however, fought their way back into a four-point lead and with 11 minutes and 30 seconds remaining faced a limited Edinburgh team’s right-hand field scrum on the Scots’ 10 metre line 10 from touch; no danger.

Outrageous chip
The reaction of Leinster to Madigan’s outrageous chip 110 metres from the Glasgow line is most telling; most notably Seán Cronin, who has continued to be immense around the park this season.

In all the years Leinster players have been playing rugby it is highly unlikely they’ve ever seen a back doing what Madigan did in the RDS but they nonetheless reacted accordingly; a team in unison?

Crucial facts must be kept to the forefront in games, especially as the minutes ticks by: the venue (home or away), the scoreboard, the clock, field position, the composition of the team (subs etc) and most importantly, where the pendulum of momentum is. A team must be conscious of its position and every stage and play accordingly.

In the RDS Leinster were 12-17 down with 47:51 on the clock in a Rabo match that although important, was, in March, hardly crucial to their season.

In Edinburgh, Munster were ahead 23-19, had flooded their bench, were in the opposition’s half and were in control of a game they had stuttered through. Then the Munster pack would have watched outhalf Harry Leonar’sd kick deep into Munster’s half being fielded comfortably by Denis Hurley, who charged back through traffic to give his retreating pack an easy breakdown.

When Conor Murray found Hanrahan from that breakdown on Munster’s 10-metre, he faced a four-on-three overlap but considering the crucial facts from above what were his team-mates thinking?

What would the great Ronan O’Gara have done? He might have run the ball but would have set up his attack to achieve the overlap, which would have put his right winger Keith Earls down the touchline outside Edinburgh’s left wing Tim Visser, with only a covering Jack Cuthbert to halt Earls.

Not set up for that outcome
But the Munster team, especially the pack, were not set up for that outcome, either positionally or mentally, so Hanrahan had to sit back and find green space deep in either corner, hammering a nail into Edinburgh’s revival.

Like Madigan in March, he chose the chip kick but unlike Leinster, who despite the outrageous chip were in expectant mood, Munster were unable to react.

When Hanrahan got on the ball deep in his half, what was he thinking? When Madigan did the exact same thing but behind his own goal line, what he was thinking? Funnily, it doesn’t matter, as long as his-team mates are thinking the same way. Leinster reacted and won the game 22-17; Munster didn’t and lost.

At that moment there appeared a disjoint in the Munster thinking and tactics. Hanrahan chose a chip kick when an overlap existed but his team weren’t set up for that; why?

Opportunity raises its head miles out and should be attacked but the pendulum didn’t require attack. It required group clarity of thought, not confusion, especially with the pendulum in their favour.

This issue is the coach’s responsibility; corridor of power is the player’s.

Munster rugby is under threat from more than Rob Penney’s choice post-match words in Scotland. Clare and Limerick hurling are on the way up, so too Limerick soccer, not to mention Limerick man Michael Noonan’s Budget and the price of tickets.

Allied to that Leinster’s Test Lion Johnny Sexton was replaced by Jimmy Gopperth (and Madigan). Isa Nacewa was replaced by the 95 international caps of Zane Kirchner and Lote Tuqiri, offering an insight into Leinster’s ambition and finances. When Munster lost the world class O’Gara and Doug Howlett who replaced them for immediate impact?

I expect a convincing winning performance tomorrow against Gloucester but if not there will be far greater consequences than an angry head coach to face.

As for Hanrahan, don’t be afraid to go out on a limb as that is where the fruit is.
A 10,500 strong crowd descended on Limerick Racecourse this week to support limerickcharityraceday.ie. Over €550,000 was raised for the Jockeys Emergency Fund, for JT McNamara and Jonjo Bright after their life-changing injuries. liamtoland@irishtimes.ie

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