“THOSE who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” — George Bernard Shaw
Sometimes in life, no matter how many warnings you get or how many times you continue to fail in accomplishing your goals, there can be a very pig-headed and stubborn part of your brain that refuses to revolutionise how you function. Even though you know you are wrong, you still continue to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome.
I think it would be fair to suggest that Munster rugby has been a stagnant entity for far too long now and that there needs to be a completely new mindset in how it goes about its business, both on and off the field.
The realisation that Munster can no longer rely on the 16th man to get them over the hump is now a well-established fact and unless Johann van Graan takes a very close and realistic look at the quality of players he has to work with and devise a strategy that encompasses their capabilities, the trophy cabinet in Thomond Park will remain a hollow void for many years to come.
The very sudden and somewhat surprising departures of Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery from the Munster coaching ticket at the end of last season might have helped Johann van Graan dodge a few well-aimed bullets. Yet ultimately, he must shoulder the blame for last season’s failures and I don’t think he will get off so lightly this year should his team’s results mirror those of the season just passed.
I know only too well that professional sport is a ruthless machine that has little or no morals, however, if you have to hide behind someone else to conceal your own deficiencies, it won’t take too long before you are brought before the masses and ravished in an open forum.
On paper the replacements for Flannery and Jones look to be clever signings but it is way too early to make any kind appraisal.
Stephen Larkham the former Australian international who will assume responsibility for Munster’s back division is celebrated for making a seamless transition from fullback to flyhalf during his playing career. This much-debated switch at the time played a major role in helping the Wallabies to win the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
It is much anticipated that the silky running Larkham will inject some of his inventiveness into the Munster backline and allow players like Dan Goggin, Andrew Conway and Keith Earls the bit of freedom they need to showcase their attacking prowess.
Up front where it probably matters most, England’s Graham Rowntree will take ownership of the Munster forwards.
Rowntree, who earned his stripes by getting down and dirty in a very tempestuous Leicester Tigers front row, will feel completely at home in the confines of the Munster dressing room and should be able to reignite the ruthless streak that once flowed through the veins of every Munster forward.
One of his first tasks will be to turn Jean Kleyn from the little puppy dog we saw in the World Cup into a Rottweiler who is able to bully the opposition just like his former England and Leicester captain did, Martin Johnson.
To date the results from the Guinness Pro14 have been positive with Munster only posting one loss against the Toyota Cheetahs in South Africa. The level of rugby in the Champions Cup is far higher, though Johann van Graan could not have asked for an easier opening to launch this year’s European escapade.
Alan Clarke who once wore the green of Ireland with the number two jersey on his back would have played against both Larkham and Rowntree in the international arena, has the very problematic task of welcoming Munster to the Liberty Stadium in Swansea.
Now in his second full year in charge of the Ospreys, Clarke is not having an easy ride with the majority of his Welsh internationals still on holidays after their third-fourth place defeat during the World Cup. He is also coming to terms with an injury predicament in his squad and has described this current crisis as a perfect storm.
In stark contrast to Munster, the Ospreys have only managed to win one out of their six games played so far in the Pro 14 and have leaked an average of 30 points in each of those games.
It is never easy playing away to any of the Welsh regions however, on this occasion if Munster cannot return home with a four try bonus point victory in the bag, it could well be the start of a disastrous crusade.
What we need to see from this Munster side tomorrow, is a blend of adventure mixed with some of the old school dominance that once followed them everywhere they went.
There was once a time that Munster were feared and respected by all those who they played against and no one scored points against them unless they worked bloody hard for them.
Depending on which side JVG decides to play in this opener, I do believe it is time for some of the younger members to take a bit more responsibility on their shoulders. The game has changed considerably, and Munster is crying out for some new leaders to emerge from the shadows of O’Mahony, Murray and Earls in order to propel the province forward.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will Munster return to winning ways overnight however, against a side like the Ospreys who are struggling massively, it is imperative that a standard is set and used as a platform to build on.
The knife must be thrust and then twisted, and the Ospreys must be left flightless wondering what just hit them.
This may sound callous but this is the European Cup where only the hard-nosed will emerge victorious.
The realisation that Munster can no longer rely on the 16th man to get them over the hump is now a well-established fact
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