Reproduced with permission from Whiff Of Cordite
THIS SUMMER, WHEN Axel Foley started his reign as Munster coach, there was a lot of talk about (brace yourself) a “return to traditional Munster values”.
To be fair none of it came from Axel himself, but a meeja who had never really bought into the Rob Penney thing defaulted to assuming it would happen. Those traditional Munster values, as we understand them, are something like an emphasis on the set piece, attacking by forwards around the fringes, and a game plan strong on half backs kicking for territory.
But if pulled pork was among the most annoying phrases of 2014, ‘a return to traditional Munster values’ should be at least in the top five. It’s become a sort of off the shelf commodity. Get your return to traditional Munster values for just €29.99 at Argos. Simply plug into the wall, and you automatically have a winning rugby team.
In recent weeks, Foley’s game plan has been pretty effective, with wins in Sale (including an extra bonus traditional value of a late drop goal) and the Palindrome by a relative cricket score, and a satisfying slap-down of Globo Gym in Thomond.
They have played a fairly narrow game, with CJ Stander carrying and big centres used to try and bash holes. Foley’s one creative midfield outlet, JJ Hanrahan, has gone largely unused, when he’s a full deck to choose from at least.
CJ Stander was well contained by the Clermont defence. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO
There is, however, one traditional value not mentioned above, and it was best articulated by Axel himself – “we’re better when we are bitter”. Too right – a large portion of the Munster mythology is built on proving someone wrong – playing a big English or French team, taking a “they don’t rate us” mentality on to the field – and showing them who is boss.
There are many classics of the genre, but our favourite was in Leicester in 2006 when Rog announced the week before the game that he could not accept the English players were any better than Irish ones (at a time when this was a controversial line), won with a last minute penalty into the rain from the halfway line.
The perfect riposte – the arrogant English Tigers didn’t rate Munster, and they were shown up in their own house. Munster still love the underdog tag.
In the build-up to this game last week, the talk was about how the Munster tight five would be dominant and Clermont would naturally wilt in the cauldron that was Thomond on a Saturday night.
No-one was under-rating Munster, and Clermont were painted as a powerhouse, but ultimately a mentally frail team who always give you a chance no matter how good they are. Everyone felt Munster would win.
If there was one team playing like they had a point to prove, one team that felt disregarded, it was Clermont. And they played like a Deccie-era Munster team facing the arrogant English.
Munster were favoured by five points before kick-off. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO
Munster looked a bit shell-shocked by the intensity Clermont were bringing, by the magnitude of the hits, by the un-Brock James like fortitude of Camille Lopez and by the refusal to bow down before the waves of passion from the stands. Lopez missed three early kicks but all were difficult and none were especially badly struck.
Any suspicion that he had been Thomond-ed fell apart once he nailed a drop goal from the 10m line.
Clermont had the Munster scrum in trouble – how BJ Botha lasted 80 minutes is beyond us. The lineout malfunctioned – Duncan Casey’s hot arm is cooling at just the wrong time – and one-out rumbles were stopped on, or behind, the gain line every time.
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