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Munster’s brave and faithful better have learnt some lessons

Matt Williams: Racing 92 defeat was the worst Munster performance I have witnessed

The RDS is the unlikely rugby cathedral where Munster must seek redemption. A redemption desperately required after the Champions Cup semi-final against Racing, which was the worst performance I've ever witnessed from a Munster team.

Its ineptitude was both breathtaking and saddening. The list of errors from the players and coaching staff was long and deep.

Munster’s lineout disintegrated. Their movement was so ponderously slow that Racing were easily able to identify and mark the jumper. The excuses offered up in the aftermath gave way too much credit to Racing’s vaunted lineout defence. It was more a case of poor Munster play.

This was compounded by poor throwing, resulting in a 35 minute meltdown.


The Munster scrum was solid in a series of five-metre attacking scrums, where points should have been grabbed.

The problem was the backline that ran possession from those scrums ticked all the boxes of haplessness. It was poorly thought out, executed without accuracy, with no deception and precious little skill.

It was astoundingly bad. The attack over the entire match was equally poor. Predictable, with no footwork, combined with passing that was well below professional standards.

The next sentence is something I thought I would never write about a Munster team.

The Munster performance lacked aggression and passion.


How a team tackles is an accurate barometer of a its unity and commitment and Munster’s tackling was soft.

Whatever happened during their two weeks in South Africa, Johann van Graan and his staff got it badly wrong. The non-selection of Simon Zebo at fullback backfired and triggered a horrific performance from the Munster back three in the first 50 minutes.

And while the Munster first-up tackling was seriously below acceptable standards, the secondary cover defending from the wingers was non-existent. When Virimi Vakatawa broke the Munster defensive line 45-metres out, the only defender between him and the try line was Ian Keatley, who is not to blame. Leaving out Zebo and pushing Keatly to fullback in defence were coaching decisions. Vakatawa simply drew him in and put Teddy Thomas over.

Why did four of the starting forwards play against the Cheetahs at altitude the week before the semi-final? Why were they not rested? All of these are coaching stuff-ups.

The talk coming from the coaches remains all about being part of the ‘brave and faithful’, which is exactly what Munster supporters love to hear. It is not what they need to hear.

The Red Army don’t need to be fed talk of ‘brave hearts’ and ‘courageous’ play. They are being deceived. They need to know why, at the business end of the season, their team played in such a horrendous manner.

The Munster teams I was privileged to coach against from 1999 to 2009 were both brave and faithful. They had steel, grit and skill. I deeply respect them. When I was with the Ireland 'A' team I coached men like David Wallace, Alan Quinlan, Mick O'Driscoll, Anthony Horgan, John Kelly, Marcus Horan, Frankie Sheehan and Donncha O'Callaghan.

All GTGs. Genuinely tough guys.


I can only imagine what these men were thinking as they watched the jersey they gave so much to, being surrendered so meekly. None of them will be happy with me, an outsider, saying these things about Munster. My answer is that in rugby, over time great foes become respected friends.

What I witnessed in Bordeaux was not what I associate Munster rugby with.

Munster need today’s game more than Leinster. With a fourth gold star on their chests, Leinster’s season is already historic - but they are vulnerable.

Teams need to recover physically and emotionally after a big match. Great defeats and great wins require players to regain emotional stability. The margins between defeat and victory are so small, being emotionally out of the ‘zone’ can result in a poor performance.

I have no fears about the physical recovery of the Leinster players. If anything, the men in blue may be a little underdone, in terms of match time for last week’s final, with many of them not playing since the Champions Cup quarter-final on April 21st. They will be physically better for last week’s game, but their state of minds will be key.

The fear for Munster is that in winning the Champions Cup, a giant weight has been lifted from Leinster’s shoulders and they can play without fear. This is one of the best Leinster teams in their history and they are primed for several years of high performance.


If Leinster turn up at their full potential it will be another sorry day for Van Graan’s side. Munster’s motivation levels should be in the red zone. In the last fortnight they should have been planning, training and recovering. Above all, they should have been channelling some controlled fury.

There are no excuses for the men in red. They cannot talk their way of another defeat. They have to let their performances do the talking. No more of the brave and the faithful nonsense. That is just not cutting it.

Munster have one hope. That is to fall back on their history and their culture. All the of Munster teams I came up against were bloody aggressive and physically abrasive.

That aggression mightn’t be enough to defeat the Champions Cup winners. But it will restore some much needed pride after the nightmare that was Bordeaux.