Leinster vs Munster: how slow can you go?

The Leinster vs Munster Pro 14 semi-final should have been a feast of rugby. It is the Irish derby and should have been a spectacle of a contest. Instead, it was a contest of who could play the slowest.

Yes, the weather was atrocious. But from both sides it was an appalling battle of attrition, rather than a match of rugby football. Had one of the teams been German, a reference to the Western Front would not have been amiss.

Munster’s game was riddled with errors. JJ Hanrahan is the most obvious to point out, as he missed several shots at goal. Those points would have changed the match. Peter O’Mahony gave away a number of rather needless penalties. Damian de Allende barely got to see the ball at outside centre. When he did get it, he let go of it far too many times.

Leinster vs Munster a disappointing match

There were not as many obvious failings amongst the Leinster players. In fact, they seemed to carry out their game plan perfectly. Their game plan was the thing that made the match the opposite of what a great derby should be. Their plan was clearly to strangle Munster and deny them any real opportunities. This came at the cost of them actually creating something.

The match was really summarized in a few phases in the last five minutes of the game. Munster tried to play but failed to get any quick ball. Van der Flier was sin-binned moments after he came in for a breakdown infringement moments after a team warning. Munster moved forward and made a mess of things. Both sets of players were whinging at referee Andrew Brace and his AR’s throughout the game.

Leinster conceded 13 penalties, Munster 11. Several times during the match rucks lasted long enough for it to turn into a wrestling match on the ground. Neither side created any quick ball.

Slow ball allowed defences to set

As most players and coaches know, slow ball gives the defence time to set. This then denies you opportunities. What usually happens is that a team lets its forwards take the ball into contact in the hope to create quick ball at the next ruck and attack a disrupted defence.

On each occasion this game, someone managed to slow it down. When they did not, it seems the side in possession decided they would rather slow it down themselves. When they did not play off the slow ball, they kicked it.

Andrew Brace can carry some of the blame, as he allowed this nonsense to carry on. The endless scrums, invariably ending in penalties, did not help the pace either. He could have penalized and warned, or sin-binned, players earlier and the pace would have had to pick up. But ultimately it is the 46 players and the coaches who are to blame for this monstrosity of a match.

Reflection of Irish Rugby

Yet, the contest of who could play slowest does not have Munster as a loser. Sure, they lost the semi-final again. They will once again miss out on a prize. But the real loser is Irish rugby. The bulk of the Irish team was represented in this match. One side was lead by the Irish fly-half, the other by the Irish scrum half. And if this is the best Ireland has to offer, the game on the island is seriously in trouble.

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