The waft of chips drifted in Denis Leamy’s direction as he sat on the bench during the second half of Saturday night’s Magners Celtic League fixture at Musgrave Park.
The Cashel native eyed up the carton of cholesterol-laced chow as the aroma also won the attention of fellow replacement Marcus Horan.
“I wouldn’t mind ‘em now,” said the Munster and Ireland number eight, as beads of sweat ran down his temple after a spot of touchline limbering.
Horan also weighed in, as the two spectators tucked into their chips, oblivious of the commotion they were causing among their test cap winning audience.
“Tomato sauce,” he added and you got the feeling that the inevitable utterance of ‘mmmmmmm’ was just a matter of seconds away from the prop’s lips.
But before Leamy and Horan had time to make an order, they and their bench-sitting colleagues were off their rears for another spot of stretching on a near perfect night for football in Cork.
Ahead of Friday night’s meeting with Leinster at this venue, this was about as good a performance as one could hope for from a Munster perspective. Seven games into the league campaign, Saturday’s win leaves the province sitting third in the table on 20 points, just three behind leaders Cardiff Blues.
Alan Quinlan’s hand injury aside (midway through the second half), Declan Kidney could reflect on a clean bill of health by the time Rob Debney’s whistle concluded proceedings.
Quinlan, the province’s outstanding player to date this season, damaged ligaments in his thumb and was due to undergo surgery yesterday (Tuesday) morning.
Another win over Leinster would prove the perfect fillip ahead of the trip to Stradey Park for the Heineken Cup meeting with Llanelli Scarlets.
Indeed, when it comes to Munster’s interests in both competitions, the next three weekends look pivotal from Kidney’s perspective.
While the European games undoubtedly stir the senior players into intensities not always replicated in the Magners League, the latter remains the province’s bread and butter.
Without matches like Saturday last, when else would Kidney get a chance to afford decent game time to emerging players such as Tony Buckley, Donncha Ryan, Denis Hurley and Niall Ronan?
Watching on in the stands, but minus his trademark leather jacket, one wondered what Irish coach Eddie O’Sullivan made of Kidney’s logical and completely sensible approach to squad building.
The only way a coach knows a guy might have what it takes is to get him out on a pitch and this is where the real value of the Celtic League comes into play.
One recalls the gusto and gut-busting enthusiasm that Jerry Flannery brought to the table when making his initial breakthrough into the Munster team in the autumn of 2003.
The crowd in turn quickly warmed to Flannery’s efforts during the then regular Friday night fixtures in Cork. Here was a player out to impress and boy, did he make the most of it.
In less than a half-dozen games, fans knew that the Shannon clubman was a hooker of real quality, a ‘keeper,’ a player who would become a major asset to province and country. And so he has subsequently proven to be, time and time again.
Which brings us onto the latest batch of players being blooded by Kidney, who surely left more than a few Newport/Gwent counterparts craving the post-match ice bath on Saturday.
Tony Buckley’s star continues to rise, with the prop forming part of a Munster scrum which devoured, chewed and spat out the Dragons’ pack in what ultimately proved a one-sided affair.
He charged impressively forward in open play after 36 minutes, using his 20-stone frame to fend off would-be challengers to release Freddie Pucciariello (via an Alan Quinlan pass) for Munster’s fifth try.
After a fine cameo in the closing minutes during the ERC win over Clermont Auvergne, Buckley, who almost joined Bath during the summer, is slowly easing fears about what lies beyond John Hayes.
Now one or two good games here and there does not a new Bull maketh, but there’s little disputing the fact that all the moves Buckley is currently demonstrating are highly encouraging.
In the second row, Donncha Ryan had a super game and linked up excellently with Mick O’Driscoll, who himself has proven rock solid in the absence of Paul O’Connell.
It’s been a rare starting Munster selection which hasn’t featured either O’Connell or Donncha O’Callaghan over the past five to six seasons, which again made Saturday’s showing so encouraging.
Both Ryan and O’Driscoll tormented Steve Jones’s lineout throws all game long and proved totally reliable when being lifted for Frankie Sheahan’s darts. Not only that, but possessing as proficient a third fielder in Alan Quinlan gave Munster options aplenty at lineout time.
Another performance to warm the cockles was provided by Niall Ronan at openside flanker. The 25-year-old Louthman got through a mountain of work and provided excellent support at the breakdown and cleaned up untidy ball when called upon.
Before anyone calls for the men in white coats, one is more than aware of the fact that the only thing New Zealand and the Dragons have in common is the colour of their kits.
But when players do the simple things properly and, more significantly, do them repeatedly over the course of 80 minutes, irrespective of the opposition, it’s difficult not to garner some optimism.
Full-back Denis Hurley fielded the high balls that came his way excellently and didn’t look out of place and it was welcome to see Garryowen’s Gerry Hurley replace Peter Stringer to get a taste of the action.
At midfield, most of Kieran Lewis’s work was in defence, while he and Lifeimi Mafi will surely reflect on not closing down the space which yielded two relatively soft Dragons tries in the first half.
But after the break, backs and forwards alike showed great discipline when preventing the Welshmen from grabbing a bonus point following Jamie Ringer’s touchdown.
For the match’s final quarter, as is the trend in the modern game, its flow was punctuated by a raft of replacements from both teams.
And it was Munster who rounded off a fine evening with a try from Rua Tipoki after Paul Warwick chased and blocked a clearance before putting the Kiwi away with a super flat pass.
Warwick, in for Ronan O’Gara, somehow kicked a routine penalty wide inside the game’s opening minute, stirring memories of the Cardiff match when the ex-Connacht man had a night to forget off the kicking tee.
But he put that early miss behind him and kicked excellently thereafter, peppering the Dragons back three with some superbly guided efforts, all of which found their intended destination – the touchline.
One could argue that for the first time, Declan Kidney possesses a squad of genuine depth, especially when compared to the fringe players at the disposal of the other provinces.
When you look at the radical overhaul of Munster’s backline division over the past 18 months, one certainly couldn’t label Kidney as a conservative coach.
While he’s brought in Mafi and Tipoki, Kidney, as he’s always keen to, has ‘kept it local’ in by blooding new players (such as Hurley) and bringing in a proven finisher in Brian Carney.
With Barry Murphy to return (who scored two tries last Thursday in an ‘A’ game against Leinster) and the imminent arrival of Doug Howlett, the Munster coach has options aplenty.
That Kidney is integrating more depth into Munster’s game plan marks a radical shift from the ruck and maul style upon which the team’s European reputation was built at the turn of the decade.
With the oft-lauded ‘Rolls Royce’ of backlines in town on Friday night, Kidney will face Michael Cheika’s side with the strongest group of attackers he’s ever had at his disposal. And with the pack muscling up well, it’s clear that the overhaul of Kidney’s team is a positive work in progress.
While beating Leinster is always sweet, the pragmatic Munster fan would take a clean bill of health at the end of Friday night’s game and a win at Stradey Park the following weekend.
But pragmatism rarely enters the mindset when the Leinstermen cross the provincial boundary for a match. So a win on Friday and a follow-up victory in Wales would be very nice, thank you very much.
Not asking for much, eh?