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Gaffney’s Gospel Bearing Fruit

18th September 2002 By Munster Rugby

Gaffney’s Gospel Bearing Fruit

Three games played, three games won. Lots of happy faces, bucket loads of quality replacements, the duck-to-water start to the new captaincy….

Gaffney’s gospel bearing fruit

Three games played, three games won. Lots of happy faces, bucket loads of quality replacements, the duck-to-water start to the new captaincy, the delight in the retaining of the former skipper’s involvement.

It’s been a good start to the voyage of the good ship Munster, a journey which now looks conceivably like making a stop at the Celtic League final before hopefully sailing off to the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup.

Counting chickens is a charge that could be labelled at this contributor, who has taken no little delight in attending Munster’s home fixtures from the relative comfort of the press box, that bastion of free loading fans with pens, who just happen to be lucky enough to get a few bob for the privilege of attending such fixtures.

Enough of such self-serving fortunate platitudes; it’s been a great start to the Celtic League campaign for Munster and the relative comfort at which the mighty men have taken three wins from three, albeit with a little difficulty in Edinburgh, has to be a source of great satisfaction for Alan Gaffney.

Rather than playing with a team which could be seen by some to be gripped by the fear of failure, the big day freezers with regular bouts of trophy-deciding heebie jeebies, etc, Munster have played much of their rugby like a team released from the expectant burdens of past seasons.

No Claw to turn to, with Gaillimh no longer the talismanic source of on-field inspiration and without the services of proven performers such as Wallace, O’Connell and Horgan, would it be fair to say that the bar of expectation was lowered, even a little by most observers before the start of the season?

Up the road in Donnybrook, the opposite was the case. Leinster, defending a Celtic League crown they richly deserved last winter, were seen by many as the coming team, a unit that appeared the best equipped Irish side for Europe this time out.

Well, if the early season results serve as a barometer for expectancy, then both the doubtful and the expectant in provincial rugby circles have been proven wrong. (But hopefully Leinster can put things right for themselves in the next few weeks)

Connacht have been nothing short of a revelation excelling under the direction of Steph Nel, their progress so ably demonstrated by their marvellous victory under the lights in Donnybrook last Friday. The Parker Pen Shield may well merit more coverage this year on our native screens than it has up to now, as the men from the West seek to do some mould breaking of their own.

And what of Munster’s lot? As an impressed observer during the victory over Ebbw Vale, despite the timidity of the challenge posed by the visitors, one felt the sense that not only was this not quite the Munster side we’re used to seeing, but the way in which they went about their business on the turf smacked of a new touchline tutor.

“Never die wondering” are three words which Alan Gaffney has long been synonymous with when one reads his comments on the game and how he envisages it to be played.

Conventional phases of possession and a strangling of creativity and variance beyond the ruck are factors which bogged down a turgid Irish performance against Romania at Thomond recently. Munster fans have no such qualms about the manner in which Gaffney has set about his task at this early stage in his directorship of the team.

Watching Mick O’Driscoll come within yards of what would have been a sensational try after his linking with John O’Neill after a passage of play which began under Munster posts during the win over Ebbw Vale was evidence of that.

Observing how the full back position has so much more to offer than the two dimensional ‘catch and kick’ utility which has become such an Irish trademark has helped the potential of Jeremy Staunton to blossom in these opening games of the season.

During the Ebbw Vale tie, Staunton played a part in all his team’s tries, and as was the case last week against Edinburgh, the full back’s penalty kicking was top class.

To watch the line out go about its work so clinically, cleanly and effectively has been another source of immense satisfaction, along with the impressive contributions of James Blaney on the throw and the equally excellent O’Driscoll along with Donnacha O’Callaghan.

That Munster’s latest victory was sealed by Staunton’s decision to keep ball in hand, rather than a play-by-numbers kick to touch and hope for the forwards to capitalise on messy line out work by the Scots also speaks volumes of Gaffney’s attempt to so vividly imprint his stamp on the team at so early a period into his reign.

That an effective maul (also a feature in all three games to date) led to Rob Henderson’s crucial try adds credence to the claim that this is a side that have gelled, both in terms of new personnel and a new approach on the touchline.

Not that any of these claims in any way sully the magnificence of the Kidney era just ended, for nothing and no one can ever take anything from the remarkable trail he helped this province to blaze across the continent.

But it’s been refreshing to see such a respected and esteemed side such as Munster be prepared to take risks, to run into that glimmer of space where most would opt for a kick and the relative safety of finding touch, to take those chances in key periods, to “never die wondering”.

So far, so good, would read most observers’ assessment of how Alan Gaffney has done in his first few months in the Munster hot seat. If anything, it’s gone even better than that. But greater tests lie ahead, greater obstacles have to be cleared and remaining among the game’s top contenders is a must.

Winning the Celtic League wouldn’t half be a bad start to what has been such a bright and encouraging start to Munster rugby’s life under a new supremo. More of the same would do nicely.

 

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