This blog was driven by my reaction to an article by Dean Ryan in the Guardian – http://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2013/oct/17/heineken-cup-munster-gloucester?commentpage=1 it got me thinking a bit about my beloved Munster rugby, the way we’re viewed by other people and the way we view ourselves.
Mr Ryan sounds traumatised by the experience of being involved in the “miracle match”, perhaps even a little bitter – if not about the result of the game itself than the near inevitable romanticisation of it in the years after.
I’ve seen Munster play at various grounds in England and Wales, including the win against Biarritz, but have never been able to get across to limerick, but my impression is we (I’m a british-irish london based munster fan) need to draw a line under the past and move on.
The tale of progress through the Heini; heroic last-ditch wins, the “hand of Back” type tragic losses; never being defeated at Thomond Park; cussed defence; teaming rain; fanatical fans and ROG’s boot was always a bit of a myth anyway. A valuable myth, but as ever, perhaps not the whole story.
Munster built an incredible team, with a lot of top quality local players, and a few carefully picked internationals to add either experience or star dust or both – Jim Williams, Dougie Howlett etc. Big funding from the IRFU and an independent deal from Adidas and Toyota allowed the final steps to be made.
After we’d won the cup twice, the whole “underdogs from the tough atlantic coast” thing always rang hollow for me. Of course some of Munster is a very tough place to live, but the same could be said of some of London. We’re not talking about Bulgaria or the Ural hinterland.
Whilst the whole Munster brand has proved useful for both the club and for the ERC and Sky, providing a focal point to drive sales; it’s maybe time for a reassessment. I’ve felt for a few years that Sky in particular are desperate to squeeze the last drips out of the reputation and history to hype any game Munster play in. Munster lost that unbeaten record years ago. The game has changed so the blood and thunder that was standard in the 90s and early 2000s when Munster was building that reputation is now illegal. The famous names that built the reputation were all top players, but many could be a bit tasty. Keith Wood, the Claw, Axel, Quinnie etc. Even more classical players like Wallace and Strings weren’t exactly angels.
That team is pretty much gone. Look at the squad biogs and there’s hardly and significant experience there. DOC & POC soldier on; some are involved in coaching, Strings is at Bath. The stadium is very different. We need a new identity for Munster rugby that is built on something other than strong regional pride and perhaps a bit of chippiness compared to the supposedly snooty types of Dublin.
So if we need to accept the past is past and use it as a foundation to build on rather than a shackle to hold us back, where next for Munster Rugby? What sort of Rugby do we want to play and how does that fit the IRFU plans?
All big questions, but I hope they’re being asked and answered by the right people. I don’t pretend to have the knowledge necessary to answer them. I’ll always watch the games I can and read the reports across as many papers as possible, but if we don’t get this sorted soon, Munster might end up on the wrong side of history. IRFU central funding means Munster probably won’t end up like some previous heavyweights such as Coventry or Bristol, but we can’t rest on the back of wins that were 8 years+ ago.
I’m all for “stand up and fight”, but I hope someone’s thinking as well.