Having resisted the efforts to hype last Saturday’s Magners League semi-final between Leinster and Munster into anything other than a poor man’s consolation prize, I’d be reluctant to read too much into the result were it not for its confirmation of a few incontrovertible facts.
There’s no escaping the evidence that Munster are a waning force. Keith Wood reckons Munster are jaded, but that by going with Tony McGahan’s expansive but patterned, and therefore predictable approach, the team have gotten away from their traditional style, which was based around big, ball-carrying forwards and ultra-pressurised scrum and lineout strategy. The “bristling aggression” of old is absent, he observes.
However, that requires energy, zest, strength, whatever you’re having yourself. Lucozade Sport or Powerade can only do some much, particularly with the crazy demands placed on professional players (another summer tour coming up when they should all be resting).
With the province’s lynchpins all getting old together, something coach Tony McGahan admitted after their latest loss to the Michael Cheika’s men, Munster are going to have to show some purchasing power if they’re to remain as competitive at Heineken Cup level. And that’s something which won’t aid the Irish cause in the short or longer term.
George Hook could be heard again on Sunday saying that Munster’s inexorable decline (and Leinster’s won’t be far behind; hence, perhaps, Cheika’s decision to move on) is more of a problem for rugby in this country as a whole. The immediate implications are that Declan Kidney is looking at going to next year’s World Cup with a rapidly ageing squad — which should have been at its peak under Eddie O’Sullivan in ’07 — and a ramshackle pack. He can’t buy his way around those realities. As a Magners advertising whiz might put it: nothing added but time.