Malcolm O'Kelly: Munster might holds firm, Kidney left smiling
Wallace lifted man, ball and the Leinster spirit with it as he drove McFadden back and, suddenly, the tide had turned again in favour of the Thomond faithful, writes Malcolm O'Kelly.
At one stage in the second half of Saturday’s Magners League final the comeback looked on yet again for Leinster.
The onslaught of the Munster line reached over 20 phases at one point and then came the turning point.
David Wallace lifted man, ball and the Leinster spirit with it as he drove Fergus McFadden away from the line and, suddenly, the tide had turned back in favour of the Thomond faithful.
Defence on top
It was all about the Munster defence in my view. Okay, Ronan O’Gara showed his class with a sublime cross kick pass for the Keith Earls try, but it was the likes of Wallace, Felix Jones and Paul O’Connell who ground out a deserved victory.
Finding Earls with that kick was the play of the day and his [O'Gara's] attacking capabilities were there for all to see.
Defensively, it was also great to see O’Gara put his neck on the line on a few occasions. He took a few huge hits as the game wore on. Finding Earls with that kick was the play of the day and his attacking capabilities were there for all to see yesterday.
Earls touches down after O'Gara precision pass
Jonathan Sexton was solid but unspectacular, however, his all-round performances all through the season should hold him in pole position to receive the No 10 shirt from Declan Kidney come World Cup time.
It’s that six million dollar question, isn’t it? O’Gara or Sexton? Whoever Declan chooses I hope he sticks by him. Changing it up from game to game will not provide the balance Ireland will need to maintain in New Zealand.
For Munster to score three tries and not allow Leinster to touch down once was a feat in itself. I thought it had to come as Leinster were getting the upper hand in the first 20 minutes of the second half and after Donnacha O’Callaghan was sinbinned.
The big question at the time was: did Munster have the big game mentality in them to pull off a huge performance? They answered that emphatically.
Although the going was tough in the second half, I was impressed with the way Munster got stuck in. Paulie was a hero out there. One of the greats of the game has had an up and down season but we have to remember he suffered a serious injury and has only started to find his feet again recently.
O’Connell’s mental shape for the road ahead should be spot on to what Kidney will look for as a major influence on the international squad as always.
He [O'Callaghan] plays on the edge sometimes but he’s had a great season and I wouldn’t judge him on one bad performance.
Donnacha has had a long season and he needs to work incredibly hard to churn out big game performances. He’s made his name for his physicality, for breakdowns, slowing ball down and he got himself into a position to give away a penalty and receive a yellow card at a critical time.
He plays on the edge sometimes but he’s had a great season and I wouldn’t judge him on one bad performance. Having those two guys there and Mick O’Driscoll for the World Cup will be important to our prospects.
Felix to fly?
I’ve written on a few occasions this season in this column that Felix Jones has bags of quality and it was fantastic to see him excel in this victory. If Kidney wants to give himself a selection headache over the full-back spot he’ll be including Jones in the squad.
Rob Kearney and Geordan Murphy both have to return from injury, as of yet, but young Felix will be snapping at their heels, just like he was giving it to Brian O’Driscoll on Saturday, for a seat on the plane to New Zealand.
Kidney couldn’t be asking for any more after a season like this. Leinster have been the form team all year in terms of big performances but Munster’s consistency in the Magners League has been vital to international ambitions. Ulster have done very well also and Connacht will come on in leaps and bounds next year with Heineken Cup action.
It’s important that he doesn’t overcook players who have had long seasons in the build-up to the World Cup but I think he’s been around the block long enough to know about that. I’m looking forward to September but, until then, I bid you farewell.