They say ‘a week in politics is a long time,’ but Munster showed the same can apply in sport
By Phil Rice
Leo Cullen put his trust in his youngsters and was repaid in spades, while Anthony Foley saw a much improved performance from his troops.
They say ‘a week in politics is a long time,’ but Munster showed the same can apply in sport.
At the weekend we witnessed a complete transformation in performance against the same opposition from the previous week. Anthony Foley was bitterly disappointed by his team’s abject performance against Stade Francais the previous week but six days later Munster were barely recognisable from the dishevelled team that was dumped out of the European Cup 27-7. Last Saturday they controlled every phase of the game, winning 26-13 against last seasons French Champions. Foley was at pains to give credit to his outstanding captain and man of the match, CJ Stander.
Asked if there was any reason why Stander should not play for Ireland in the forthcoming Six Nations he replied, “None whatsoever, he’s a great man and the player comes out of that.”
Foley pointed out that he wasn’t first choice captain but owing to Peter O’Mahony’s long-term injury, he was catapulted into the role.
“This group would be used to big leaders, big physical, demanding men and CJ’s going to be a great leader going forward.”
Whether he figures in Joe Schmidt’s immediate plans will be revealed in the coming weeks but there is little doubt that a number of players who would not have been frontline candidates at the outset of the season have pushed themselves forward in recent weeks.
Joe Schmidt remained loyal to his established players in the lead up to the World Cup but in the aftermath of that disappointing tournament he may well take the opportunity to introduce fresh faces to his line up. Leo Cullen certainly introduced fresh faces at the weekend. Six players were given their first European starts for Leinster as the coach placed his faith in his academy players.
“I was as nervous as I’ve ever been this week,” he commented after the game. “Not because I don’t believe in those guys but because I want them to do well.
“I felt like it was my debut game for Leinster myself.”
Eight of the starting team were aged under 25. He needn’t have worried as they outplayed Bath with an outstanding performance in which the youngsters were superb. Bath Coach Mike Ford commented, “Credit to Leinster, the enthusiasm the kids showed and the way they ran the ball and got off the line was a credit to Leo Cullen.”
Garry Ringrose in particular showed what a talent he is. Despite his relatively frail appearance he tackles with venom and his eye for space and his ability to capitalise on it, mark him out as an exceptional prospect for the future. He may even enter Schmidt’s plans in the short term.
Ross Molony was man of the match in his first start for the province. Again he needs to bulk up before he fulfills his full potential but his work in the loose and his dominance of the line-out, show him to have great potential. Josh van der Flier has been performing well all season for his province and Peter Dooley is a talented loose head who held his own against seasoned veterans on Saturday.
All these players have come through the Irish under 20’s team, where the work of Coach Mike Ruddock has been invaluable.
Talking of Ruddocks, Mike’s son Rhys was outstanding again on Saturday and he must surely be knocking on the international door again. Joe Schmidt has riches indeed when it comes to back row talent.
Ulster fought bravely against the favourites for this years Champions Cup, Saracens. Ultimately they came up short but they still have an outside chance of qualification but will need results elsewhere to fall in their favour.
It was a bad weekend for Connacht who lost narrowly away to Brive in the Challenge Cup. Coach Pat Lam was bitterly disappointed, “Our individual errors were horrendous and all we can say is it was just not a Connacht performance.” Despite scoring two tries they were beaten by seven penalties, 21-18.
This weekend sees the conclusion of the group stages of the European Cups. Ulster and Connacht are Ireland’s only hopes for representation in the knock-out stages.
However the upturn in the other provinces performances last week, particularly with such an impressive impact from the younger players, gives some hope for the future.