Rugby

Zebo And Bleyendaal Stand Up As Leaders 10 Months After Almighty O'Mahony Bollocking

Zebo And Bleyendaal Stand Up As Leaders 10 Months After Almighty O'Mahony Bollocking

Even if it transpires in the coming weeks to have been merely temporary, there was something affirming about Munster returning to their pedestal as the pride of Irish sport.

True to the mantra Anthony Foley helped enforce, Munster stood up and fought where lesser or simply more ordinary beings would have crumbled or deferred. Captain and talisman Peter O'Mahony - a colossus during the emotionally-charged press conference midweek, and again on Saturday - was joined at the hip by fellow team leaders Stander, Ryan, Holland and Murray, as a red tide rolled into Thomond and engulfed its in-form adversary.

It was the exceptional Stander, however, who gave the most telling indication as to the status of this Munster squad in the immediate aftermath of an extraordinary 38-17 victory. The South African back-rower said:

It was a very, very tough week. I am very proud of the team. A lot of the boys turned into men this week.

The way the young players played was his [Foley's] legacy. Peter [O'Mahony] took a big load off me, when he talks you listen. He brings physicality and leadership.

Implied in Stander's 'boys to men' assertion was the emergence of key players, old and new, as leaders of men next to Munster's more typically vocal presences.

Alongside the imperious Rory Scannell and again-impressive Darren Sweetnam, one who preceded Anthony Foley's reign, Simon Zebo, morphed from 'bit of a character' to 'senior figure' within the space of 80 minutes - a tremendous try causing the Thomond cauldron to overspill, his immediate celebration as the score was awarded by Jerome Garces leaving no ambiguity as to for whom he had battled to cross the whitewash.

And how fitting it was that the Cork man put his hand up and inspired on what would also become a watershed day for Munster's Kiwi fly-half.

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Tyler Bleyendaal's arrival from Canterbury slipped many a radar due to a neck problem carried from New Zealand. It was this ongoing injury which evoked one of Anthony Foley's great quotes - given to Gavin Cummiskey in the Irish Times, and one that now strikes as eerily relevant within the context of Saturday's send-off to the former head coach:

We as a club need to look after the player and it’s not a piece of meat we are dealing with. It’s a human being, so there is a human side to this that we need to manage, and that is what Munster is about, it’s about the people.

Bleyendaal was always Foley's guy, but fell foul of captain Peter O'Mahony as he failed to impress during the delayed beginning to his Munster career.

At a video session following Munster's woeful 24-7 defeat to Leinster at Thomond last December, the Kiwi 10 actually welled up such was the bollocking he received from O'Mahony, who led the meeting having watched the game from the stand while still crippled by his World Cup ACL tear.

It was a team session of the soul-searching variety, no holds barred, with O'Mahony reportedly roaring that Bleyendaal was 'a 10 that can't kick the fucking ball' following a poor display with the boot, leaving his teammate on the precipice of tears as the rest of Munster's players watched on.

O'Mahony's ire was also diverted toward childhood friend Zebo following Munster's rudderless display against the old enemy, with the now-record-breaking try-scorer learning that he was 'a fucking British and Irish Lion and Ireland international that can't fucking defend'.

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The fact that the pair had played together since school no longer mattered. O'Mahony was taking names, and as CJ Stander suggested above, when the captain speaks, people listen: Both Zebo and Bleyendaal were subsequently dropped by Foley for Munster's 9-7 victory in Ravenhill the following weekend.

It's almost poetic, then, that 10 months on, during a week which instead saw O'Mahony shed tears for an altogether different reason, both Zebo and Bleyendaal rallied around their captain on the field of play, each producing colossal displays on a red letter day for the province.

In truth, O'Mahony would have expected no less from a player of Zebo's relative experience. But next time Munster find themselves in the trenches, Tyler Bleyendaal can look at his captain in the eye without any inhibition. On his European debut, he stepped up and set the tone, attacking the gain-line from minute one and bashing over the line on a day when it was imperative that his team strike early. Anthony Foley had long heralded his ability, but O'Mahony now knows that Bleyendaal is his guy, too. It cannot be understated how important that trust is for captain, fly-half and team.

This Munster side will have learned an enormous amount about themselves as both a team and individuals on Saturday, and indeed during the incomprehensibly difficult week which preceded victory over Glasgow. Defying logic for the first time as a unit, carving their own monumental occasion into the province's folklore, the new Munster generation became the embodiment of their legendary predecessors - a feat which the great Foley had spent two years trying to achieve as coach. This was their Miracle Match, forged in the face of greater adversity than most teams will ever know.

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The inspirational Peter O'Mahony is no longer the missing link between Munsters old and new. On a day when he needed them most, he was backed to hilt by a core of possessed men who, on more than one occasion last Saturday, threatened to transcend the human condition. It was eerily reminiscent of what was supposed to be a bygone era.

Boys became men, and Munster became Munster again as they honoured the icon who set such lofty standards in years past.

SEE ALSO: Peter O'Mahony Is A Brave Symbol Of All That Is Great About Rugby

SEE ALSO: 'I'll Have To Play Harder, Make Axel Proud' - CJ Stander Discusses Return To No.8 Shirt

Gavan Casey
Article written by
Former handwriting champion. Was violently bitten by a pelican at Fota Wildlife Park in 2001.

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