Monday, May 4, 2009

Ireland: Heineken Cup Semi-final- Reasons why Leinster defeated Munster on a score of 25 to 6 at Croke Park

Odds on favourites Munster suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Leinster in the Heineken Cup semi-final played at Croke Park. Few pundits or Munster supporters gave Leinster any chance. However the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

The post mortems have already begun. A multiplicity of reasons can be put forward to explain the defeat of the champions:

The overconfidence which pervaded the province translated itself to the players. In addition the media built up Munster as probably the world’s greatest club side. Much of the talk concerned Munster's likely opponents in the final. Even the best professionals can succumb to such pressure. This blunted the edge required in the field of battle. Munster lacked the hunger of heretofore.

In contrast Leinster was roundly criticized as weak spirited and lacking in the bottle required to topple the champions. The savage criticism meted out to Leinster fuelled an insatiable desire to topple Munster. The Leinster players were hungry for success.

The selection of eight Munster players for the Lions tour of South Africa undoubtedly weakened their focus on this game albeit subconsciously. This is undoubtedly borne out by the fact that Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara did not play to their own usual high standards. In addition Paul O’Connell may have lost focus- having been chosen as Lions captain.
The injury to Tomas O’Leary may have affected those chosen for the Lions tour.

Leinster "out-munstered" Munster in the physical battles. Indeed it is safe to say that 14 Leinster players bested their immediate opponents. The physical power of the Leinster pack overwhelmed Munster. Players such as Shane Jennings, Leo Cullen, Jamie Heaslip and Stan Wright were a revelation. Jennings and Cullen have benefited from their stay at Leicester. However it was the signing of Australian Rocky Elsom which was the icing on the cake. Elsom oozes power and class. This is enhanced by a huge work rate. The man is a colossus. Over the last two years Leinster coach Michael Cheika has gradually assembled a powerful pack to complement the class of backs such as Darcy, O’Driscoll and Fitzgerald. Yesterday Cheika got team selection correct.

Errors by Munster players resulted in two tries for Leinster. A missed tackle by Paul Warwick led to a Leinster try by Luke Fitzgerald whilst a misplaced pass from Ronan O’Gara gave the ball to O’Driscoll who duly scored. The loss of Rua Tipoki has severely weakened the Munster back division.

In addition players such as John Hayes, Alan Quinlan and David Wallace are undoubtedly approaching the end of their careers as age begins to catch up with them.

Also Leinster played close to the edge-the mark of a good team.

Good luck to Leinster in the final. Hopefully Leinster can keep the Heineken Cup in Ireland. However Leicester will be formidable opponents. Munster will be back.

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