Munster were dealt a heavy blow by their Parisian opponents at the weekend. Instead of standing their ground like the redcoats that wrecked havoc on Ireland and terrorised the province for so long, they were like the old British cavalry – impressive on a paddock but shambolic when it matters.
And as the great Irish general Wellesley cursed his cavalry, so do the normally intensely loyal men and women of Munster curse their side.
Wellington accused his cavalry of never manoeuvring, but charging headlong into the enemy, holding no reserves and always being cut to ribbons. And he knew where the problem lay: the officers were vain and in search of glory, failed as leaders and did not actually know a thing about strategy.
The analogy with the army might be a far stretch, but in the case of leadership the comparison always works. A rugby team revolves around leaders, one of the old balls at a party over the weekend told me again and again. And I have known for years he is right.
A rugby team needs a captain who leads by example, inspires the others and knows his tactics. It needs NCO’s and generals on the pitch. Usually you find these in the little scrum half that bosses the forwards around and the wingers and full back who call the shots in defence, who try to organise the back line, and the calm fly half who makes the calls, decides which direction to play in and thereby also quietly forces his will on the forwards.
Munster have none of these. They miss the leadership of retired Paul O’Connell and injured Peter O’Mahony. Ian Keatley is no general, nor is Andrew Conway. It leaves the team hanging on quiet Conor Murray’s tenuous hold over the forwards, and on Keith Earls and Simon Zebo trying to organise from the outside.
And so, like Wellington’s cavalry, they falter at every hurdle. They charge at the wrong moment and their organisation on the field is a shambles.
Stade Français’s first try was a clear example of this lack of leadership and communication. Paul Williams ran through a gap that should never have been available. He probably couldn’t believe his luck when it appeared. In the utter confusion he cut them to shreds.
Throughout the match Munster were flat in attack and dangerously loose in defence. Even Keatley’s near try was a moment to make one scratch their head.
Keatley chose the short side and with only one player behind him threw a flat pass to the outside. Earls and Scannell both sought the outside and Keatley ended up being forced to kick because there was no space and no support inside. When he kicked there was nobody for miles around. It was a poor choice, poor play, poor support, poor communication and poor leadership. That sort of thing always leads to apathy and inevitable defeat.
Sadly, continuing the reference to war and armies, this is peculiarly Irish. Without strong leaders, they falter and fail. They keep fighting amongst each other and things always get worse.
However, as the Irish will remember during this year’s 1916 centenary celebrations, no matter how long they might struggle and suffer, they do prevail in the end.
Paul Peerdeman, Pundit Arena
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