Even so, those initial wins over Leinster and Ulster had left Munster atop the northern half of this ingeniously formatted tournament and well placed in the foot race over five games against random opponents to top a table of 12 teams for a place in the proposed final against the leading South African side.
Munster’s selection at home to Connacht last Friday week, when 18-point favourites, was a statement of intent, but the 24-20 defeat means they are no longer in control of their own destiny.
Benetton, winless in 16 games over the regular Pro14 season, are the only team for whom that applies after backing up their commanding 46-19 home win over Glasgow by completing the double over Zebre.
Munster still head a six-strong peloton with two wins out of three but, like the others, they need Benetton to lose at home to Connacht (also still in the mix) this Saturday or away to the Ospreys on Saturday fortnight. Munster also need to beat Cardiff at Thomond Park this Friday (kick-off 7.35pm) and Zebre away a fortnight later, probably with a bonus point or two.
They will be without Conor Murray, whose minor leg injury is not expected to sideline him for longer than this week, Chris Farrell (groin), Roman Salanoa (ankle), Thomas Ahern (illness), RG Snyman (knee) and Neil Cronin (knee), but Gavin Coombes and Paddy Patterson are back.
Winning the Rainbow Cup would at least ensure Munster’s trophy drought would not extend into an 11th season, so removing that monkey from their collective backs.
“I said from the outset that we want to win this tournament, we took it very seriously,” maintained forwards coach Graham Rowntree on Tuesday. “I think our selections have reflected that as well, and certainly our performances up until the disappointment against Connacht, and that last third of the game in particular. But we are taking it very seriously.”
Friday’s game against the Blues, a point behind Munster after 17-16 and 29-28 wins over the Dragons and Scarlets, is effectively a knock-out tie. “Very much so,” agreed Rowntree. “That’s it, literally; it’s a knock-out game.
“We’ve played against them twice this year, they’re a good team. Dai (Young) has made a change there going in. They’re a physical team, good defensively, good in the breakdown, massive attacking threat as well, a running ‘10’ and running ‘9’ threat,” added Rowntree in reference to the dangerous Tomos Williams-Jarrod Evans combination.
Cronin is not the first to discover that this was an unfortunate year to be out of contract for, at 30, he should be entering a prop’s prime years
“We’ll have our hands full, which is exactly what we need. We’re ready for it. We’ve certainly trained with this in mind and our preparation has gone really well.”
Munster confirmed last week that they are releasing James Cronin. Munster wanted to keep him but with budget cuts also contributing to compulsory redundancies elsewhere in the organisation, couldn’t afford to do so.
Cronin is not the first to discover that this was an unfortunate year to be out of contract for, at 30, he should be entering a prop’s prime years.
He has played 142 games for Munster (and won three caps for Ireland), including 13 starts this season, more than the other four loose-heads in the squad combined, in what has probably been his best campaign to date. Cronin started the Pro14 final against Leinster, the Champions Cup win over Harlequins and was on the bench against Toulouse.
Contractual decisions are not part of Rowntree’s remit, and he was reluctant to add any more to Munster’s statement last week other than making his admiration for Cronin clear.
“I think he has been very good for us this year and I think, in any career, you’ve got to experience something new, which he will be looking to do. I can’t speak highly enough about working with the guy and wherever he goes, he will be successful.”
Injuries and Irish call-ups have restricted the 32-year-old David Kilcoyne to just three starts out of seven appearances for Munster this season, so the province have certainly made a statement of faith in Liam O’Connor (25, two starts this season), Jeremy Loughman (25, one start) and Josh Wycherley, who will graduate from the academy this summer.
The 20-year-old made four starts this season and performed manfully when pressed into a full Heineken Cup debut in the comeback win away to Clermont last December. He played 77 minutes that night, although he has been restricted to just 72 minutes since, in part due to several niggly injuries.
“It’s a very, very competitive position,” said Rowntree. “I think we’ve seen that this season with the performances of the guys there, Jeremy Loughman and Liam [O’Connor] in particular. Then Josh [Wycherley] took his chance; that game he had in Clermont was incredible. Stocks are good there. Guys do come through and guys leave the club, that’s just the nature of clubs.”
Orange warning in place for five counties on west coast
Violent storm force 11 winds are expected off the west coast as Storm Barra approaches on Tuesday morning.
A status orange warning is in place on land for the counties of Galway, Clare, Limerick, Kerry and Cork from 6am on Tuesday morning until the same time on Wednesday morning.
Counties included in orange warning could see damaging gusts of up to 130km/h which will head to high waves, high tides, heavy rain and storm surge.
The rest of the country will be under a status yellow warning for the same period with the possibility of localised flooding.
Met Éireann head of forecasting Evelyn Cusack told Newstalk Breakfast that the storm system is developing rapidly over the Atlantic at present and will hit Ireland’s western seaboard on Tuesday with strong gale force winds which will quickly extend across the country.
There will be heavy rain turning to sleet and snow on higher ground, she warned.
Met Éireann will meet with gardaí, local authorities and emergency services this morning to update the progress of the storm and provide advice on what precautionary measures should be taken.
“It will be a pretty horrid day,” added Ms Cusack who advised against cycling.
The high winds and heavy rain will continue throughout Wednesday but they will have moved on by Thursday.
On RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, senior meteorologist Liz Walsh warned that trees could be knocked down during the high winds. She also advised that outdoor street furniture should be taken in or tied down and cautioned that Christmas decorations could be damaged.
Coronavirus rules for driving tests spark complaints
Claims of rude testers, of not being allowed to cough and having to drive with windows open due to Covid-19 were among the complaints received from people who failed driving tests recently.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA), which oversees driving tests nationally, released a sample of the 1,505 complaints received since the start of last year under the Freedom of Information Act.
New figures show the driving test centre in Cork had the highest pass rate with 75 per cent of people passing, while the lowest was Charlestown in Dublin with a 42 per cent pass rate.
One person complained he had told his tester he had asthma and might need to cough because he had recently changed inhalers, causing irritation to his throat.
“I was advised that if I coughed at any stage, the test would be over immediately. This was difficult to control while under exam pressure and added a huge amount of unnecessary stress and pressure,” the individual complained.
Another individual complained their tester said if their face mask slipped “a little bit from my nose” while driving, the test would be ended.
“I’m in shock how he treated me that day,” said the complainant.
Another learner driver who failed said their car was hot and “very uncomfortable” because the tester said the hot air de-misters had to be kept on to prevent the windows fogging up because the back windows had to be kept open due to Covid-19.
One complainant said the tester seemed to have prejudged the test when they spotted a small stain on the driver’s seat as the car was supposed to be “spotless”.
“The tester was clearly taking it too far. I was complying with all Covid precautions as I had just Hoovered and sanitised the car and it was simply a mark on the seat.”
There were general complaints beyond Covid-19 issues. One person complained about feeling “anxious” because the tester was “sitting there shaking his head”.
Another said their tester repeatedly shook his head and sighed several times, and then made notes on the score sheet, which was “extremely off-putting and really unfair”.
Another driver said the tester was “extremely condescending and patronising” and mocked their answer to a signpost theory question about an “unguarded cliff edge”.
“We don’t drive along cliff edges in this country,” the tester was quoted as saying.
The RSA has been dealing with a backlog of driving tests due to the pandemic.
The test centres with the next lowest pass rates were Dublin’s Churchtown, since closed (44 per cent), Nenagh, Co Tipperary (44 per cent) and Mulhuddart (45 per cent) and Raheny (46 per cent), both in Dublin.
Former US presidential candidate Bob Dole dies aged 98
Bob Dole, the long-time Kansas senator who was the Republican nominee for president in 1996, has died from lung cancer. In a statement, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, founded by Dole’s wife, said: “It is with heavy hearts we announced that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died earlier this morning in his sleep. At his death at age 98 he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years.”
In late February, Dole announced that he had advanced lung cancer and would begin treatment. Visiting him, President Joe Biden called Dole his “close friend”.
On Sunday the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, like Biden a Democrat, ordered flags at the Capitol to be flown at half-staff.
Born in Russell, Kansas in 1923, Dole served in the US infantry in the second world war, suffering serious wounds in Italy and winning a medal for bravery.
His wounds cost him use of his right arm but he entered state politics and soon became a longtime Republican power-broker, representing Kansas in the US House of Representatives from 1961 to 1969 and in the Senate until 1996. He had spells as chairman of the Republican National Committee and as Senate minority and majority leader.
In 1976 he was the Republican nominee for vice-president to Gerald Ford, in an election the sitting president lost to Jimmy Carter. Two decades later, aged 73, Dole won the nod to take on Bill Clinton.
Against the backdrop of a booming economy, the Democrat won a second term with ease, by 379 – 159 in the electoral college and by nine points in the popular vote, the third-party candidate Ross Perot costing Dole support on the right.
Dole received both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest US civilian honours.
In the Trump years and after, Dole came widely to be seen as a figure from another time in Republican politics.
On Sunday, the political consultant Tara Setmeyer, a member of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, tweeted: “I cast my first ever vote for president for Bob Dole in 1996. A war hero with a sharp sense of humor ? another piece of a once respectable GOP gone.”
However, Dole remained a loyal Republican soldier, telling USA Today this summer that though Donald Trump “lost the election, and I regret that he did, but they did”, and though he himself was “sort of Trumped out”, he still considered himself “a Trumper”.
Dole called Biden “a great, kind, upstanding, decent person”, though he said he leaned too far left.
He also said: “I do believe [America has]lost something. I can’t get my hand on it, but we’re just not quite where we should be, as the greatest democracy in the world. And I don’t know how you correct it, but I keep hoping that there will be a change in my lifetime.”
On Sunday, Jaime Harrison, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, said: “Sending heartfelt condolences and prayers to the family of Senator Bob Dole. We honor his service and dedication to the nation. May he Rest In Peace.”
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