Bourgoin too cocky for Munster
All credit must go to Connacht at Conference level, yet possibly if and when rugby finds an even keel after the helter-skelter into professionalism, it would be more satisfying if Ireland's principal representatives in European competition were to be club sides (the AIL winners and runners-up for example), rather than the incongruous provinces.
Munster were not short of commitment in France on Saturday, but they couldn't match the cohesion and passion of the municipality of Bourgoin-Jaillieu (population 25,000), some 25 miles south east of Lyons en route to Grenoble. It could be claimed that Shannon, Young Munster, Garryowen or Cork Constitution would rise to the challenge and give the European Cup more authenticity. Munster were disappointed with their performance. Mick Galwey admitted that, after a tight first half (8-6), the final scoreline reflected Bourgoin's quicker reaction. But the skipper - like coaches Declan Kidney and Niall O'Donovan - felt that the stopstart nature of the game (penalties and injuries, including a damaged knee for Peter Clohessy early in the second half) did not allow Munster to get up a full head of steam. Typical of a French side, Bourgoin seized most of their opportunities, scoring three tries, two with the pack driving over and the third coming from right winger Laurent Leflamand after a sweeping three-quarter movement - with physio Phyllis Nolan still on the field attending an injury to John Kelly. The presence of a cockerel on the pitch for the entire second half in an impassioned and vibrant atmosphere did not unduly disconcert Munster, exemplified by the composure of Dominic Crotty. But they were under some pressure and the home team asserted themselves on a glorious Autumn afternoon. Their New Zealander at outhalf, Nigel Geany, who mixes rugby with a wine business, directed operations as if he were hosting a vendage, while the captain, Michel Malafossa, showed dynamic leadership in the loose. Equally, Munster's New Zealander, Rhys Ellison, did most to keep his side in contention, setting an example with his stout tackling in midfield and landing two first-half penalties (for line-out indiscretion), but missing a couple of kicks at goal in the second period which might have made the outcome closer.
Although Shane Leahy again rose impressively at Munster's throw-ins, possession overall was too limited to breach the French cover. Only in the early exchanges - when Killian Keane found a massive touch 10 metres out and when Eddie Halvey made a charge for the line - was there any hope of a try. Now Munster must regenerate their spirit to salvage honour from the visit of Harlequins next weekend.