As Munster continue to digest a well-known sense of disappointment at their yearning to dine at the top of Europe again, it seems natural to point to Leinster as an example as, in the oft-quoted words of their coach, they return to zero.
It’s perhaps less obvious to draw a historical line for this as far back as 2006, when not only was the rugby relationship between the two very different, but so was the way the sport was played.
From a narrow-minded perspective, the middle of this decade was a glorious year for Munster Rugby, but beyond the Guinness sheen of success, the sport itself was cloaked in a quagmire of mediocrity, with daring and enterprising stifled by coaching and restrictive legislation.
It is to Munster’s credit that they seized the moment and clinched their two European triumphs at that point, but it was clear at the time that a side with the ambition to illuminate their approach with some ambition could ultimately fail .
Leinster was part of that group, perennial contenders but no more.
A remarkably sunny afternoon in the south of France in spring 2006 threatened to change that script dramatically, not just in terms of the stunning nature of the entrepreneurial flair it took to win – ironically another quarter-final against defending champions Toulouse.
But also in the burgeoning sense of burgeoning support witnessing this unforgettable event, a sense that this was a province finally emerging from the blinking eyes of professionalism, finally poised to take the next step towards the pinnacle of European rugby to do.
But it was only a stunning mirage, her fall off Lansdowne Road just a few weeks later symbolizing that the summit remained beyond her immediate reach. Munster, a hardened competitive squad with the learned demeanor of a side that knew what it took to win the competition – which they were about to do – concocted a sweeping statement of aggressive nous on and off the field, smothering the blue hordes in the stands and also on the field.
The message to Leinster, framed by the rugby landscape of the time, was expressed simply by their Australian scrum half, Chris Whitaker.
“You can have as much flair as you want, but you’re not going to win anything without a solid defense,” he told us.
And so it was that when the teams met again – in another 2009 semi-final at a Croke Park where their supporters rallied with much greater vigor – even a side with similar resources beat the Red Army back on the pitch.
Prior to that win, a somber, somber quarter-final win in the infamous “Bloodgate” affair against the Harlequins offered the antithesis of the kind of rugby Leinster had normally sought expression in but now appropriately timed.
They installed the necessary staff to make the change and instilled the necessary mentality and ability in the players to make it happen.
Your first star would follow. They would not stand still for the next decade and now as they plot a fifth title they have proven their ability to adapt to an ever-changing sporting landscape where entrepreneurship and ambition are rewarded.
A look at all four semi-finalists in Europe reveals a quartet all committed to a process that delicately balances risk and reward, but without which it is impossible to win the biggest club prizes.
Can Munster really admit that they have devoted themselves to this style for months and years in order to achieve the standards required to become a European Championship-winning side?
A brief appeal to recent uninspiring KO successes provides the answer, as does last weekend’s erratic attacking attempts; Only another successful breakout could have prevented a heartbreak against a dwindling French force.
But unless a team inherently has the mindset and consistent application of learned behavior, it’s almost impossible to just command them at will.
It is no consolation for the Munster fans to know that their team is heading in the right direction after so many false dawns.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/champions-cup/approach-of-europes-top-four-shows-the-distance-munster-still-need-to-travel-41632072.html David Kelly: The convergence of the top 4 in Europe shows the way Münster still has to overcome