Saturday 16 December 2017

Ian Keatley suffers badly as Munster drop from the top

Ian Keatley
Ian Keatley

Sometimes you can make ground by standing still, writes Des Berry.

The worrying sight of Jonathan Sexton sat, straight-faced on the sideline at Belfast's Kingspan Stadium on Thursday was a call to arms for the two Ians, Keatley and Madigan.

Interestingly, Leinster's Madigan was outstanding for the fact he was not released back to his province for PRO12 League action in Wales.

The reason for this has not been made clear.

It could be that Sexton is guaranteed to make it to The Millennium Stadium and Madigan was not part of Leinster's plans.

It could be that Sexton really is a serious doubt and Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was not willing to risk putting both Keatley and Madigan in the firing line. While Madigan was idle, Munster's Keatley was unacceptably poor in the 26-12 loss against The Ospreys in Swansea.

The simple fact is Madigan made ground on Keatley by being 'absent with leave' for the purpose of being the next in line to start should Sexton fail to come through.

However, there was a noticeable drop in standards on the changeover from Sexton to Madigan against England. Nonetheless, Madigan was brave to a fault in meeting his defensive duties in what was a difficult situation to be thrown into.

While Munster were hindered by a motorway car crash that rushed their preparations, captain Denis Hurley refused to offer this is an excuse for an uncharacteristically tentative performance at The Liberty Stadium.

They simply never turned up.

When a pack of forwards cannot find traction from their set-piece or from the physical exchanges, the job of the out-half becomes doubly difficult.

Unfortunately, Keatley struggled in most facets of his game, his goal-kicking going awry as Munster lost their lead at the head of the PRO12 League table.


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