No matter the age or the stage, rugby continues to provide us with great entertainment, writes Aidan Corr in this week’s Limerick Leader column.
SOME readers may remember the sporting days of poor communication in Limerick when results of the local side’s League of Ireland away games would be posted on the window of the Limerick Chronicle office in O’Connell Street as soon as possible after the final whistle. That was in the late-1950s and some of us still have fond memories of the then editor of the Limerick Leader group going through the motions of making the fateful phone call to the venue, writing the result down on a sheet of white paper, affixing the cellotape and revealing the result to the awaiting fans.
It was an era when the only two professional sports in this country were boxing and soccer and almost 60 years before sports coverage reached the saturation point that it now enjoys.
Just when we thought that our five-star helping of Six Nations rugby on Super Saturday would provide the perfect entré for the World Cup, up comes the quarter-finals of the inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup last weekend to raise the cockles of our hearts once again.
How delighted those at the helm of the EPCR must be. The four games provided compelling viewing and the organisers could not have chosen two more mouth-watering pairings in the semi-finals if they had been given free licence to do so. Even the venues for the last two games sound exotic: Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, St Etienne for the Clermont and Saracens tie on the Saturday (April 18) and Stade Veledrome, Marseilles (where 37,043 were crammed in as Munster lost in the semi-final last season) for the meeting of Toulon and Leinster on the Sunday.
While getting home advantage in the quarter-final continues to be key to advancing to the penultimate stage of this competition, one now wonders where Munster are as they strive to achieve their third success in the competition. It has become painfully obvious that the more money that is available, the more likelihood of success. Toulon, for instance, have internationals from England (2), South Africa (4), Georgia (3), Argentina (1), Australia (3), Wales (1) and New Zealand (4) as well as six French capped players, none of which come cheap and most of whom would probably fail to agree to the terms that Munster could offer.
Clermont Auvergne are more French friendly with 15 capped guys with Les Bleus in their listed squad at the start of the campaign. They also have a splattering of different nationalities with three New Zealanders and one each from England, Portugal, Canada, Wales, Pacific Islands and Samoa.
We can expect Munster to add to their squad over the coming months but while they still have that wonderful spirit that comes with pulling on the red shirt, they appear to be punching above their weight when it comes down to the knock-out stages away from home.
No sooner were the semi-finals confirmed last Sunday than the bookies were throwing out the odds on winning this first ever European Rugby Champions Cup. Understandably, an all-French final is favoured with Toulon on 8/11 and Clermont at 2/1. Leinster are a generous 9/1 with Saracens 15/8.
Light years away from the money-spinning professional game, Coonagh is the venue this Sunday afternoon for the semi-final of the Munster Junior Cup, a competition that is still close to the hearts of the local grassroot game. Shannon, somewhat surprise semi-finalists, take on Kilfeacle and District, the winners meeting either Clonmel or Young Munster in the final.
And for the really dedicated, what about a trip to Dooradoyle this Saturday (1.30) for the Garryowen-hosted Pan Munster U-11s festival. Now that’s where you’ll see some real rugby!