OPINION: Season of goodwill is also the season of opportunity

I had to write it, but I didn’t want to. Even still, Munster were a poor decision in the last five minutes away from possibly coming away with a losing bonus point. That moment, choosing to go down the line rather than kick for the posts from just inside the 10m line on the 15m hash – would prove to be pivotal.

I’m writing about a poor decision that I have no context for. If I don’t write it, I’m “Munster PR” – even though I get that regardless of what I write, but when I do write it, it feels wrong to me. It wouldn’t matter if it was Munster players, Leinster players or Saracens players, for that matter. Writing about somebody else’s decisions after the fact when I have no context other than what I can see on my TV screen or from the stands feels wrong. It feels like picking the lowest hanging fruit.

Oh look at that, you made a choice between two branching decisions and it didn’t work out as you’d planned. Maybe you should have chosen the other option instead. Wow, you think? Judging purely on the outcome is reductive and I try not to do it.

Players play, writers write and dancing in between those true two truths are all the things we miss. Like, for example, Munster’s leadership group seeing the clock with five minutes to play and thinking “we can still win this”.

To do that, they’d need two tries. If winning is your aim, as it was in this game for Munster, even with the clock running down, then a losing bonus point is something to think about when you don’t have it. In the heat of the moment against top opponents, I think I want players going for the win rather than settling for a defeat.

Heineken Champions Cup Round 4, Allianz Park, Hendon, London, UK 14/12/2019 Saracens vs Munster Munster’s Keith Earls dejected after the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

When it works, as it did for Connacht recently enough, you get the rewards. When you don’t, you get full articles wondering aloud why you chose to try and win the game, rather than settling for an enhanced loss. Hindsight is for writers. Playing is for players.

Onto matters of the Christmas selection box. It brings opportunities for players on the fringes of the Category One squad. Everyone knows that at this stage, well maybe barring a few columnists stuck for copy a few hours after Leinster’s team sheet gets announced for the game in Thomond Park in a week or so. For everyone else, the traditional Christmas games are an opportunity for the previously unheralded to make something of themselves in front of big crowds.

Remember Jordan Larmour’s world-class finish in Thomond Park two seasons ago and Dan Leavy’s top drawer performance in the same game? Remember Fineen Wycherley getting stuck into Johnny Sexton last season? Or Connacht almost edging out Leinster in the RDS?

Challenge Match, Energia Park, Donnybrook, Co. Dublin 13/12/2019 Leinster A vs Munster A Munster’s Alan Tynan is tackled by Scott Penny of Leinster Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Oisin Keniry

This is the time of year when young players make a name for themselves – the only question is “who”? This time around, Munster have a few guys who feel like they’re on the cusp of a breakout opportunity – Craig Casey, Keynan Knox, Jack O’Sullivan, Gavin Coombes, Shane Daly, Calvin Nash, Diarmuid Barron, Eoghan Clarke, Ben Healy and a few others down the chain like Wren, Hodnett, French (Sean and James) and Josh Wycherley.

With O’Mahony carrying an abducter injury, Beirne out for a spell with ankle surgery and John Ryan looking like he’s out for a bit too, there are real opportunities when you consider the enforced IRFU player welfare rotation that is going on combined with Botha’s suspension.

Munster Rugby Squad Training, UL, Limerick 17/12/2019 Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Who’s going to get the opportunity to change how they are seen, both without and within the group? Who’s going to have their Christmas moment in front of a full house at Thomond Park?  It’s the best thing about this time of year.

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