The mas­ter­plan con­tin­ues

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Sports - Gavin Cum­miskey

The splen­did iso­la­tion of Mun­ster ver­sus Le­in­ster in Thomond Park no longer ex­ists. Not af­ter the sub­sti­tu­tions of Johnny Sex­ton (60 min­utes with Le­in­ster trail­ing 16-10) and Joey Car­bery (71 min­utes, 19-10). Nei­ther be­ing tac­ti­cal nor down to in­jury.

Rather than Ir­ish rugby’s great ri­valry, we wit­nessed the high­est grade train­ing ses­sion imag­in­able.

The fix­ture is triv­i­alised for the greater good but the re­moval of Sex­ton was a pre-planned de­ci­sion – from how high up we can only as­sume - that di­rectly led to Mun­ster vic­tory.

Wit­ness a com­pe­ti­tion try­ing to sell it­self as se­ri­ous when the best player in the world is pulled from its flag ship reg­u­lar sea­son game with 20 min­utes to go and his side trail­ing by six points. Fear not.

Mun­ster re­sponded by yank­ing Car­bery. Sure, Ciarán Fraw­ley will learn from toss­ing the con­test end­ing in­ter­cept pass to Keith Earls. Sure, Tyler Bleyen­daal is risen from the dead. Yes, Toulouse and Glouces­ter are lurk­ing with Eng­land in­vad­ing the Aviva on Fe­bru­ary 2nd. It’s a World Cup year, they’ll tell you, but what of the league’s rep­u­ta­tion?

(We as­sume life goes on post Ja­pan 2019)

Penny for the thoughts of Guin­ness and Eir? Sex­ton – the world player of the year, the cap­tain of th­ese cham­pi­ons – leav­ing the field, when the mo­ment de­mands he sol­diers on, ce­ments the Pro14 on its lowly perch: an en­tic­ing warm-up for Europe and lit­tle more be­sides.

This can no longer be branded Ir­ish rugby’s El Clas­sico, or what­ever lofty moniker is at­tached to ul­tra se­ri­ous sport.

The ob­vi­ous de­fence: see Ed­die Jones’s badly frac­tured English squad.

The Mas­ter­plan is all about Ire­land.

“We got to think big,” said IRFU chief David Nu­ci­fora (pic­tured above) re­cently.

“Any­thing is pos­si­ble if ev­ery­one is aligned and work­ing to­gether. One of the real strengths of the Ir­ish sys­tems is it is joined up.”

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