Ian Keatley calmly ploughing his own furrow

Following in O’Gara’s footsteps is a tough task but Munster outhalf is relishing the task

A north Dubliner by birth, before Munster's game away to Gloucester in January Ian Keatley was shaded by the long shadow of a Cork man.

More pressing a problem was the young Kerry fly-half, a Castleisland RFC product no less, seemingly poised to usurp Sutton’s finest No. 10.

A mighty showing at Kingsholm was needed to silence the grumbling hoards. The tactics that night centred around Munster halfbacks prodding ball in behind the cherry and white line. Keatley toe-poked himself into brave and faithful hearts, even those with Kingdom brogues, when creating Keith Earls' try.

Among plenty of other impressive acts was his conversion of Peter O’Mahony’s try before a late penalty made it 20-7. Same as it ever was; Munster dominance rewarded by their trusty outhalf.

"Keats was tremendous," said Rob Penney afterwards. "Probably the best game he has had in the red jumper."

No probably about it. The rising din to let JJ Hanrahan loose on the main stage dissipated that night.

Mental fortitude
When Ronan O'Gara peeled the red garb off after the Clermont Auvergne defeat last May – not before a trademark grubber almost scripted one last page for his book – Keatley was anointed as the chosen one.

As the history of political leadership and present day sport shows us, he who is forced to follow a doyen tends to buckle under the strain.

“On the back of that he has shown mental fortitude and physical fortitude,” Penney continued. “He tackled like a Trojan and really dominated the ball and put us in really great places in the park to unleash ourselves. He owned the 10 jersey today.”

That's an immediate difference between the old and new Munster conductor. Keatley's sturdy defence should allow his forwards drift onto oncoming Toulouse waves without any concern for their prized possession.

“Yeah, Leinster did it as well,” said Keatley when asked about “monsters” pouring down his alley.

“It comes down to individual tackles at the end of the day. But if I’ve got my connection with my seven and my 12, it makes it a lot harder for them to break us down..If I do get a half-tackle in then there’s someone there to finish him off.

“We don’t defend as individuals, we have that pack mentality to take them on.

“So hopefully if they do send their monsters we’ll be able to smother their attack, slow down their ball and make it a lot more difficult for them.”

Keatley's "seven" will be Tommy O'Donnell with 12 set to be Denis Hurley.

Hurley, a fullback by trade, has been shoe-horned into inside centre, breaking up the old Belvedere partnership Keatley had formed with Jimmy Downey.

“It’s about trying to fill him with confidence because Denis is a very good player and a very good passer, a very good ball carrier when he gets going. His normal position is in the back three so he does have a little bit of flair about him as well.”

Munster’s incumbent back three have no problems in the flair department with Simon Zebo and Keith Earls showing glimpses of their electricity in Dublin last Saturday night.

That’s what makes Keatley’s presence at pivot so crucial; a six from six place-kicking return against Leinster is comforting but the Munster backline cannot fail to ignite against Toulouse.

"Just basing it on the Leinster match, I think we didn't launch very many strikes off lineout. I think the first three balls we got off lineout, we didn't get past two or three phases. One we knocked on, the second we got choke tackled, the third we got bundled into touch.

Touching distance
"Given the fact that we didn't have that much ball and didn't penetrate that much, we were still within touching distance of beating Leinster."

Again, touching distance won’t suffice.

“It is hard to flick a switch but we are professionals, this is our job, we should be able to do it.”

If Munster fail to beat Toulouse, O’Gara’s back catalogue will be flung in Keatley’s face. But he knows this and seems comfortable enough in his own boots.

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