Monday, January 23, 2006

Provinces Answer Their Country's Call

In a trademark display of finger-on-the-pulse, perceptive analysis, TSA wrote rather dolefully a couple of weeks ago of the prospects for Leinster and Munster as the Heineken Cup's group stage double-header denouement loomed, immediately prior to both sides' breathtaking progression into the last eight of European rugby's blue riband tournament.

Damn strange game, rugby, and no mistake.

Just as the respective provinces' dim outlooks have been suddenly illuminated this last two weekends, so too the international camp must have been an infinitely jauntier set-up this morning than when they last met in November. One imagines that the only ones not smiling will be those who have enjoyed their club sides' qualification celebrations rather too much - well, them and perhaps the Ulster lads, although I'm sure they will be happy for their international colleagues. I mean its not like Ulster not to join in with the rest of..... ok, better stop there.

While Munster and Leinster's successes - or at least the style and nature of them - were surprising, they lay in both sides sudden ability to overturn the age old concerns that mitigated against them: namely, in Munster's case, the discovery of flair and verve in the backs to colour their forwards' dominance, and in Leinster's, the addition of enough doggedness and grit in the forwards to give their all-star back division a chance to shine.

Forwards aside, let's talk up Leinster's glory boys. Talking to the Irish Independent last week, Gordon D'Arcy alluded to a focus in their training on turning defence into attack, suggesting that even when focused on stopping the opposition's advances, Michael Cheika was looking for his side to be in constant readiness to counter, to look for and exploit any weaknesses when least expected. No accidents, then, Shane Horgan's try which began with a Felipe Contepomi tap-penalty in his own 22, and the Argentine's own try which came from his interception of an Olly Barkley pass.

But, alas, the weekend's garlands are still Munster's. Typical, really - despite Leinster's greatest performance in recent memory, they still manage to be trumped by the men in red. For all Leinster's fantastic achievement yesterday, note Sale and Bath's respective positions in the Guinness Premiership - 1st and 11th. Sale came with all the strut of England's finest and were laid waste in that distinctly recognisable way of Munster's at Thomond, where the oppostion invariably appears unsure as to exactly what just happened.

To return to the rough correlation made here a few weeks ago: Heineken success should mean international success, so there should be the hint of a smile on the face of the normally inscrutable Galwayman to whose team our attentions now fully shift.

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