Munster Lack Edge in Narrow Loss To Leinster

A rivalry as old as Irish Rugby itself. Munster once dominated and were the more feared side in Europe, with Leinster a side inflicted by the nearly-men curse. Those roles have been reversed in the last decade, with Leinster wins becoming more frequent in this fixture. While the side in the east of Ireland have lifted 3 League titles in a row and consistently challenging in Europe, it’s Munster who are now suffering a drought and losing games on big occasions. Connacht’s win in the RDS a few weeks ago should Leinster aren’t as invincible as the last year and a half of Pro14 games would suggest. Connacht were intense, energetic, and near flawless that day, bringing Leinster back down to Earth. Munster will have left the pitch on Saturday feeling they should have handed their provincial rivals a 2nd defeat of the season in what could be a League final preview.

Withe Leinster’s 10-13 win, the equaled the record for most consecutive wins in this fixture they set between 2009-2010 with 5 wins. Since Munster beat Leinster in the League Final in 2011, Munster have only won 5 of the 22 games between the sides. The Southern Province have only won once in the past 5 seasons, and have lost 3 semi-finals against Leinster on the Boys in Blue’s route to 3 league titles in a row. Getting to those League semi-finals shows that Munster are getting there, as those the 3-point scoreline and the fact that this is the 4th successive game between the sides that was quite close. But the 90-56 aggregate scoreline in favor of Leinster over the last 5 games, all Leinster wins, shows there is a gulf in class, one many Leinster fans could only dream of in the 00’s

Munster lead from the 5th minute when Hanrahan kicked a penalty until the 69th minute when Jordan Larmour crossed the line after a beautiful side step. Crucially, Munster’s last score was the conversion from Beirne’s try in the 12th minute. Despite having the better of much of the play, they were not clinical. If you fail to score for over an hour in a rugby match against a side that has dominated the league and has had your number, your liable to receive a gut punch. That gut punch game with 11 minutes to go after Ross Byrne did well to set up Larmour and respond to any complaints about him potentially being Ireland’s number 2 number 10 in the Six Nations.

The game was delicately poised, which suited Leinster more than Munster. It seems obvious to say, but if Munster had built a lead during their dominance early in the 2nd half they would have likely held on as Leinster were not having their best game. Munster looked to have the momentum when they won a turnover on their own line, and had the opportunity to make it a 10-point game with a penalty just before halftime. Agonizingly it hit the post, resulting in Leinster finding an attacking platform, winning a penalty, and scoring. A game that should have had a 10-point difference had a 4-point difference at the break. Munster had something to doubt themselves over, Leinster had proof that they were the more clinical side.

It’s an issue Ireland have faced at times over the past while. Having plenty of chances, not taking them, then receiving a hammer blow. The hammer-blow this time around was delivered by Larmour side-stepping his way over the line off a lineout play. Ross Byrne expertly landed the conversion to make sure Munster would need a try to win the game. Munster were deflated, Leinster, like great teams do, won a game where they were 2nd best for the majority.

The biggest game of the season is now Ulster v Leinster, which is a must win for Ulster to reach the final. If Ulster were to drop many points in their remaining games we’ll likely see a repeat of this fixture, possibly in the Aviva, at the end of the League campaign before a new era begins.

Athletic Bilbao claim Supercopa Glory

One of the best players in the world getting sent off for swinging his arm at the head of an opponent during Sunday’s Supercopa de España final, but that shouldn’t be the main focus. The story should be that Spain’s oldest club, Athletic Club de Bilbao (Bilboko Athletic Kluba in their native Basque), won only their second trophy this century.

The Spanish Super Cup, (the equivalent of Ireland’s Presidents Cup, or England’s Community Shield) changed format last season. Where previously the winners of the league would play the winners of the cup, we now see 4 teams play out a semi-final and a final. The two cup finalists and top two teams in the league enter the tournament, which is a straight affair.

Lasts season’s cup final is still yet to take place, it was originally rescheduled for late last year in the hopes that fans would be allowed into the stadiums to witness Basque rivals Real Sociedad take on Athletic Club. They were joined by last seasons La Liga champions Real Madrid and the runners-up Barcelona.

Many would have been banking on an El Classico final, and if there was going to be an upset Real Sociedad, having been higher achievers than Athletic Club recently, would have been the more likely. The young battling Sociedad side put it up to Barcelona in the semi-finals, equalizing early in the second half through an Oyarzabal penalty to cancel out De Jong’s goal just before the break. Barcelona would ultimately progress 2-3 on penalties, with Sociedad missing their first 3.

The stage was set for Real Madrid to join their rivals in the final the following day. Athletic Club threw out the script with two goals in a 20-minute spell in the first half from veteran Raul Garcia. Karim Benzema got one back in the 2nd half, with the Frenchman continuing to be the La Liga champions most reliable attacking threat. Bilbao hung on despite having only 30% of possession to set up a repeat of the 2015 final.

Back in 2015 the final was a two-legged affair. Barcelona had won the Champions League a few months earlier, and had beaten their opponents in the cup final the previous season. Boasting Messi and Suarez upfront, with Pedro in for Neymar, Barca were the favorites then too. Bilbao stunned them with a 4-0 win, coals from Mikel San José and a hatrick from club legend Aritz Aduriz. In the away leg Aduriz equalized to secure a 1-1 draw, and a 5-1 aggregate win. The sides also met in the Supercopa in 2009, 1983, and 1945, with Barca winning on each occasion.

Bilbao appointed Marcelino Garcia Toral as coach 13 days before the final. Marcelino had beaten Barca in the Copa del Rey final back in 2019 with Valencia. He had lost to Barca in the league in one of his first games in charge. Despite struggling by their high standards this season, Barca were favorites.

A move to a 1-4-4-2 has suited Athletic Club, helping them remain compact despite having significantly less possession. Sevilla was the venue for the final. An early chance for Inaki Williams (more on him later) showed Bilbao were in the game, but Barca eventually took the lead through Antoine Griezmann after Messi’s shot was blocked. The flood gates could have opened there.

But they didn’t, the lead lasted two minutes. Williams put in a cross that found Oscar de Marcos, who squeezed the ball just inside the left post. 1-1 After a lively first half

Athletic were in dream land 12 minutes into the second half when Raul Garcia got onto Iker Munian’s freekick and headed powerfully into the net. The celebrations were wild until they were cut short by VAR showing the goal was offside. Griezmann got his 2nd 20 minutes later, which looked to be that until the 90th minute. Lenglet gave away a freekick, which Munian sent into the box. Asier Villalibre found the roof of the net. 2-2. Extratime was on the cards.

All 3 of Athletic Club’s goals came at good times, the end of the first half, the end of the 2nd half, and the start of extratime. Barcelona put Bilbao under pressure early in the first half of extratime, until Inaki Williams found himself in space at the edge of the box. His shot hit off the post and went in to the top right corner.

Barcelona looked deflated and frustrated. Those emotions manifested themselves in Messi swinging his arms at an Athletic defender when Barca had an attack. VAR ruled it was a red card, the Argentine was sent off. Messi had only been sent off twice in his senior career, both for Argentina. Now he is set to miss the next few league games. Bilbao hung on putting their bodies on the line.

Athletic Bilbao lift only their 2nd trophy this year. The Basque club has never been relegated despite having a policy of selecting only players who were born in, or trained in, the Basque region. They currently sit just 5 points off the relegation zone, but will now be looking up the table towards the European spots.

Spain's oldest club lift silverware for the 2nd time this decade.
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