How Can Munster And Leinster Not See What The Problem Is?
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Between 2006 and 2012, five of the seven European cups were won by Munster and Leinster. Add in a Leinster’s Challenge Cup in 2013, three PRO12 titles in 2008, 2013, 2014 and Munster’s two PRO12 titles in 2009 and 2011. Thats eleven trophies between the two in less than a decade. Undoubtedly the two most successful, most consistent teams in rugby for the last ten years. What has happened to these two former giants?
We’re constantly hearing that French money has destroyed the game and made it impossible for the Irish teams to compete anymore but take a look at the Champions Cup tables at the moment.
After four rounds, the five teams who currently lead their groups consist of three English, one Welsh and one French. France’s biggest spenders Clermont and Toulon find themselves second in their groups while Bordeaux and Oyonnax find themselves rooted to the bottom of their groups. Now we know things are a little messed up with fixtures postponed, leaving a lot of teams with only three games played but as things currently stand the eight teams in qualification spots are made up of four English teams, three French teams and one Welsh team. Ulster are currently the only Irish team that are in with a shout, but only three of the five teams that finish second get through. Currently sitting in second are teams like Toulon, Clermont, and Northampton meaning it will be no easy task for them.The issue at hand however is Munster and Leinster. Leinster have had a very difficult group but you have to stop and think that the Leinster of old would have dispatched of Wasps at home, would have scalped Bath away and would have secured one from two against Toulon. That would have left them right in the mix going into Christmas but they now find themselves in an unprecedented position- bottom of the table with a meagre two points from four games. It is simply staggering. Munster on the other hand have only played three games due to fixture backlog, but still find themselves third in the group with back to back losses against Leicester- failing to even secure a losing bonus point in either game. Once again you have to look back and think the Munster of old would have secured a bonus point win at home against Leicester and would have came away with a losing bonus point at the very least away from home.For Leinster and Munster to have lost seven of their last eight games between them is simply astonishing. Their fall from grace has been cataclysmic. We’ve pointed to the money issue many times and we even wrote a report about how the IRFU has played a huge role in their downfall but the more you think about it, you have to blame the provinces themselves. The people in charge at Munster and Leinster can only look at themselves as the catalysts for a lot of what is wrong with them at the moment- more precisely the people they have put in charge.
Munster have struggled to replace Ronan O’Gara since his retirement. Ian Keately has been given long enough to show his worth but despite this perhaps their brightest pupil JJ Hanrahan was still let go. Munster knew what they had to do to keep him but they chose not to, it’s as simple as that. Paul O’Connell has been a huge loss but knowing for sometime he was leaving why let his old parter in crime Donncha O’Callaghan leave? He wanted more game time just like JJ. Instead Mark Chisholm was brought in, who has so far failed to impress. Bright young talent like Luke O’Dea, Sean Scanlon, Sean Dougall and Paddy Butler were all left leave over the past couple of seasons. Players have been brought in this year that offer no improvement to the squad such as Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, Sean Doyle and Mario Sagario. Add in the ever injured duo of Tyler Bleyendaal and Gerhard van den Heever and you’ve got a list of players that just don’t cut the Munster jersey. Munster’s current squad is probably one of the worst in history.
However you have to stop and look at the current coaching set-up to see where the problem really lies. You’ve got the likes of Anthony Foley, Ian Costello, Mick O’Driscoll and Jerry Flannery with little to no experience, running one of the biggest clubs in the world. Jobs for the boys. It’s simply astounding when you stop to look at it. Anthony Foley has been a fantastic servant to the club as a player, but to be handed a job like the Munster job with absolutely zero experience is absolute madness. Eighteen months into his tenure and we’re now looking at a situation where a team than at one stage went over a decade straight qualifying from the group stages of the European Cup are about to be dumped out at that very stage- two seasons in a row. Everyone is currently putting the blame on Ian Keatley, but Ian Keatley was a far better player when he had to fight tooth and nail for his spot with JJ Hanrahan, nevermind the fact that JJ is a better player than him and should have gotten his chance when he wanted it last season. JJ didn’t leave. Anthony Foley let JJ go.
Munster now find themselves in a situation where they can’t even get 15,000 people into Thomond Park. There was once a time when Munster had 15,000 people or more travelling to away games. Munster are in a transitionary period, which is understandable. They will not transition into a better side however as long as Foley and his regime are in charge.
Leinster on the other hand aren’t suffering as bad as Munster in the player department. The crowd is still behind them, with 45,000 strong showing up for the Toulon game in the Aviva on Saturday. They still have some serious quality in players like Jonny Sexton, Sean O’Brien, Rob Kearney, Jamie Heaslip, Luke Fitzgerald, Ian Madigan, Luke McGrath and Cian Healy and they will continue to make up the bulk of Joe Schmidt’s Irish team heading into the Six Nations. Leinster once again have to take a look at their coaching set-up. Leo Cullen, Girvan Dempsey and John Fogarty. Once again three guys with little to no experience trying to lead one of Europe’s most decorated clubs. It just simply cannot work. Leinster have more players and talent than they know what to do with. They don’t however have a gameplan.
Rugby is such a complex game, where sometimes a good coaching team can be even more important than the quality of players available. Just look what having people like Les Kiss and Pat Lam is doing for Ulster and Connacht. Eddie Jones with Japan and Michael Cheika with Australia. Can you imagine what Pat Lam would have done at Munster the past couple of years? Could you imagine what Les Kiss could do for Leinster? It’s so simple, yet Munster and Leinster simply do not see it. We can go on and on about the IRFU’s involvement, how money has changed the game making it more competitive than ever, but you have to start with the basics. Your coaching team leads from the front. A champion horse needs a champion jockey. A Formula One car needs a champion driver. You can blame the players all you want. At the end of the day, the buck stops with the coaches.
Changes need to be made at both clubs at the end of the season, regardless of what happens between now and the end of the season. Otherwise two of rugby’s biggest giants may find themselves in a situation that they might never get out of. Perhaps it’s time rugby took a leaf out of football’s book. If the manager ain’t cutting it, it’s time for a good old ‘mutual consent’ golden handshake.
– Jason Hennessy