When two great Munster forwards moved back for the good of the team
"They actually picked him over me in the centre!"
Many forwards, especially of the back row variety, often glance to the backline and tell themselves they could do a job out there. In 2005, Declan Kidney gave two Munster forwards a chance to put that theory to the test.
With an array of back row talent to call upon - Denis Leamy, Anthony Foley, David Wallace, Alan Quinlan and Stephen Keogh - Kidney hit upon the notion of using a couple of his more athletic flankers as backs.
The wily Corkman experimented early on in the 2005/06 season and even though results went Munster's way, it was short-lived. On the latest episode of Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby, Barry Murphy and Jerry Flannery recalled [from 52:00 below] Kidney's brainstorm.
The forwards as backs trial began on the opening day of Munster's 2005/06 Celtic League campaign. They welcomed Scottish side Border Reivers to Thomond Park and lined up with world-class openside David Wallace on the wing. The game was a dour affair, with Munster relying on penalties to win 9-7.
One week later, and played down the road at Musgrave Park, Wallace was back in the No.7 jersey but that left Leamy as surplus to back row requirements. Ahead of Munster's clash with Ospreys, Kidney noted that Wallace 'is a very good openside and he deserves a game there'.
Kidney argued that Leamy was of more benefit to Munster on the pitch rather than off it, so he was selected in midfield. "Denis has certain skills for the position," said Kidney, "but he's played in the centre before, albeit at underage level." There was no huge injury crisis at the time, it must be noted, as backs such as Mike Prendergast, Paul Burke, Jeremy Manning and Rob Henderson were all in reserve over the course of the opening month.
Munster beat the Welsh region 37-10 with Anthony Horgan bagging a brace of tries. Two weeks later and, with Scarlets coming to Cork, Kidney went with Leamy in the 13 jersey again. As Flannery recalled:
"What about when we were playing with Munster, years ago, and we were so stuck for backs that Declan Kidney started playing forwards in the backs. He put David Wallace on the wing and put [Denis] Leamy at centre... We played Scarlets and Regan King was just running at Leamy and just holding the ball and spinning it on his finger. Leamy was like, 'Oh, I'll get the ball there' and he'd just jump and next minute it was like, 'Oh Regan King's just made another f***ing line break'. And they were like, 'Oh, they're going to play John Hayes at fullback next!'"
"They actually picked him over me in the centre!" jokes Murphy.
"They put me fullback. I was like, 'I've never played fullback in my life' and they were saying, 'You're too small'. Just stick you in the back and they put Leamy in the centre."
King had a fine game against Munster and set up two tries but missed conversions cost Scarlets and two second half penalties by Ronan O'Gara sealed a 14-13 win for the hosts. In both of Leamy's starts at centre, he was replaced by experienced Ireland international Rob Henderson.
Despite the three wins from three games with forwards filling out the backline, Kidney dropped the experiment. Murphy, Henderson and Trevor Halstead all had runs at outside centre until, after Murphy was injured in March, John 'Rags' Kelly was moved in off the wing.
Kelly lasted only 12 minutes of a thumping 30-6 European Cup semi final win over Leinster - replaced by Rob Henderson - but recovered in time to start at 13 in the province's final win over Biarritz, in Cardiff. For that game, Kidney went with a back row of Leamy-Wallace-Foley with Quinlan coming on for the final five minutes... for Paul O'Connell.
Multi-talented, these Munster flankers.
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Barry Murphy and Andrew Trimble are joined in the House of Rugby studio by Jerry Flannery as they look back on the Guinness PRO14 action, preview the Champions Cup and select an underrated XV.