Archer’s moment of madness and Lowe’s moments of brilliance key
Finicky and time consuming officiating takes away from derby date
Munster’s Tadhg Beirne is tackled by James Tracy with Jack McGrath during the Guinness Pro 14 game at the Aviva stadium. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Mitigating circumstances for Stephen Archer.
Tadhg Furlong recently spoke about a tighthead’s state of mind, or lack thereof, moments after pounding his upper body into scrum after punishing scrum.
“It’s not that you are out of breath, it’s just you’re drained and you’re sloppy,” Furlong revealed, “Your movement gets sloppy. It’s tough to watch yourself four or five phases after a scrum because you’re thinking: ‘Jaysus, what are you doing?”
Exactly, Jaysus Archer, what on earth were you thinking when blocking Fergus McFadden in what became the game’s seminal moment.
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony reminded everyone of the heavy impact from “five or six scrums” moments before Archer gifted Ross Byrne a penalty that the man of match (a silly decision considering the stunning brilliance of James Lowe) converted to make it 30-22.
That’s how we finished.
The Leinster defence – unlike wilting Springboks in Pretoria – were never going to concede two scores in eight minutes.
“That made it impossible to get back into the game,” Munster coach Johann van Graan conceded.
The result, it can be argued, came down to the 70th minute Leinster restart, after Alby Mathewson’s try and Joey Carbery’s conversion, following a succession of dominant Munster scrums reeled the deficit back to five points.
Archer, sloppily, wearily, interceded.
“The same player had just come off the back of a try after five or six scrums,” said O’Mahony. “These things happen in the white heat of a game. I certainly won’t be giving out about these mistakes as I’ve been on the wrong end of them plenty of times. There are decisions you make in games.”
Van Graan indicated that a Leinster prop, seemingly Andrew Porter, could have been punished with a yellow card.
“Look, if you concede three penalties five yards from your line, sometimes you get a yellow card.”
All told, Munster head to Exeter in dark, dangerous form. That’s the essential mindset when entering as brutal a setting as Sandy Park.
One cautionary note for Van Graan and his fellow coaches was the sight of Mathewson, already essential to the Munster cause in Conor Murray’s continued absence, being forced off with a leg injury.
The derby served its purpose then, even if Leinster without a raft of their best Ireland internationals and Scott Fardy, prevailed with something to spare.
That’s just where this rivalry currently resides.
Munster were heavily published by the finicky and maddeningly time consuming officiating of Ben Whitehouse – a competent young referee more often than not. Neither touch judges nor the Television Match Official quickened the process that bored the audience.
There was a mess of poor decisions to deny Keith Earls a runaway intercept try moments before Lowe’s second touchdown.
“We have worked a lot over the last few weeks on our composure when we go a score or two down,” said Van Graan. “We did that fantastically well, came back to 14-12.
“The 42nd minute was a 14-point swing when we got called back from a certain try. There was a call made, the opposition went to the corner and scored a try. All I can say is you want consistency.”
And that will probably never happen, not with the current state of rugby, and how difficult it has become to enforce the rules or considering the pressure being heaped on the ref.
And anyway, when the dust settles the performances of Whitehouse and touch judge Mike English will fade but the majesty of Lowe will live on.
The future Ireland winger was a joy to watch, perhaps his best performance in a Leinster jersey, certainly the most productive as two muscular tries, a thumping left boot, a tussle with Sammy Arnold and the cracking of Carbery’s ribs somehow failed to get him picked above Byrne’s kicking consistency.
Strange, but not to worry, the 50,120 crowd knows that Lowe must play in all the big games – unlike last season when he was sat down for the European run in. That means Fardy or Jamison Gibson-Park must be excluded.
What on earth did Lowe do for the All Blacks think-tank to allow him leave New Zealand? It can’t be down to sprinter’s pace.
“He’s one of those world class players,” Van Graan agreed. “You got to cut down the space. Sometimes you just got to say well done. I thought he played well tonight.”
Leinster coach Leo Cullen obviously concurred: “He’s very, very strong in contact. He’s a constant threat. He’s become very passionate about the team, and that’s what you want.”
So, he’ll start against Wasps, right?
“Everyone is in the mix,” said Cullen, “It’s a nice competitive group.”