Saturday, January 20, 2007

How all occasions do inform against us...

The portents were all wrong. Alan Quinlan our junk yard dog, born for such a scrap, spuriously cited (by a Brit commissioner)and savagely suspended. Halstead, the spine of the backline, injured, leaving two high-stepping nancy boys manning the pass. And then, just as the pot was beginning to bubble nicely, John Kelly was taken off injured - to be replaced by the very flakey Tom O'Leary - you saw his role in Leicster's clinching try. Why didn't they bring on Christian Cullen at full-back, move the estimiable Payne to the centre and stick one of the ballet-dancers on the wing. Why wasn't Foley on from the start? O'Driscoll lacks wit and pace and ruins the configuration of the back row - perhaps his fitness was suspect and they only brought him on when things were going awry. Also, Leamy was plainly not back to full fitness and was a nonentity.

But I must not dimiss Leicster's hunger, drive, and huge physical commitment. They outfought Munster. They were evil, cynical, brave, and clever. None more so than Shane Jennings - soon to rejoin Leinster. Their front row won the game for them though - Chuter, White and Castrogiovani were the rock upon which all was built. They bullied their opponents - Horan a boy to White's man. And Tuilagi and Rameri on the wings, with their exotic hair-styles, were immense - you could see them relishing the physical nature of the game.

And yet, and yet. If O'Connell had taken the penalty opportunity at 8-6 to Leicster, it would have been a huge psychological boost for Munster - who should have been nowhere near at that stage. Instead he opted for a scrum - Leicster won a penalty and went down the field and scored the match clinching try.