THERE are times in life when change is inevitable and whether it is implemented out of necessity or by choice, people will fear it because they can’t anticipate the outcome.
Over the last 10 years, the Munster rugby colossus that we all loved and grew up watching with such pride and admiration has stumbled and become a stagnant entity. No longer can they bully teams around the park with their unrelenting forwards paving the way so the likes of O’Gara, Murray, Kelly, Horgan, Conway, Earls and Howlett to name but a few, could conjure up point-scoring opportunities.
It almost seemed that as the rest of the world was listening and watching how the game was evolving, Munster were fearful of moving away from the historical culture that brought them so much success.
Lao Tzu, a renowned Chinese philosopher, once wrote 'If you do not change your direction, you may end up where you are going' and this has truly come to pass in Munster’s case.
Yes, you can argue that Munster are still a very formidable force in Thomond Park and they are always knocking about in the quarter- and semi-final stages of most competitions.
Unfortunately, finals are rarely played in Limerick and if participating in the knock-out stages is good enough for some, I can 100% guarantee you that for the players, anything other than holding a trophy aloft at the end of the year is deemed a complete failure.
This kind of mentality has again been transferred down through the generations and the players who have gone before will always look to hand over their jersey with a request that the shoulders who next fill it keep on raising the standards, but this cannot always happen for various reasons.
For one, the game has changed so much over the last decade that the players of today would not be able to live with the players of old and vice versa.
The modern-day and finally-tuned athlete that we see today would run the older generation off the park, whilst the older boys would just beat up the newbies.
I think it would be safe to suggest that because of all the law changes and restrictions placed in and around the breakdown of the modern game, that if the Galway, Foley and Clohessy generation were to play against last Saturday’s Munster team, none of them would be on the field come half time.
Today’s side would all be injured, and the golden oldies would all have been sent off.
Back then the referees almost encouraged the use of the boot in order to speed up play whereas today any contact with the boot to another player is deemed not acceptable.
Personally, I don’t think there is any harm in letting a player know he is not on the correct side with a little tap dance, but I don’t make the laws.
Another reason why today’s players cannot replicate what transpired in the past is the pressure put on coaches to win at all costs, and this is especially pronounced in Munster’s case.
Accountants now play a big part in the modern game and as we all know accountants do not like risks.
They plan, forecast and work off what they had to play with last year and this determines the quality of player a coach can bring on board and what kind of game-plan they can look to implement.
If you have peanuts to pay you will only get monkeys and that goes back to another old proverb of “you only get what you pay for”.
So, this brings us to the question? Have Munster now turned a corner and finally accepted that they need change?
For me the answer is yes and there have been three major changes in personnel who can ultimately alter how the future of Munster rugby will pan out.
The first two are in the coaching ticket. I do strongly feel that Johann van Grann somewhat hung both Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones out to dry at the end of last season, however, when one door closes another one opens and with the arrival of Australia’s Stephen Larkham and England’s Graham Rowntree the balance between freshness and knowledge seems to be present.
Both these former internationals have no ties to the historical Munster and it is looking like they are moving away from what Munster do when the pressure is on, which is revert back to strangling the life out of teams by sticking the ball up the jersey and kicking the leather off it.
There will still be occasions where this method might be appropriate but opposing teams are just too prepared for this kind of assault and Munster can not impose the same kind of physical dominance they once could.
We are still a long way off in this transformation process, but at least it has started and that is always the hardest thing to do.
The third entity that I refer to in this trio of change is CEO Garrett Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald, who has served as Munster Rugby CEO since 1999, was the longest-serving provincial chief executive in Irish rugby and what a proposition he was tasked with when he took up his role.
Just imagine entering a position where there was no job speck, no previous examples to work off, no previous mistakes to learn from and no book of how to run a professional rugby organisation to refer to.
He was also working within a country where the clubs, schools and universities all worked off different templates and in a province that had two homes.
He was either extremely brave or incredibly foolish but now that his term has come to an end, he can hold his head incredibly high and shoulders back as he reflects on all he has achieved. Some might debate some of the ‘negative’ decisions he made but at least he had the guts to make them, whilst others would have delayed and moaned.
Fitzgerald’s replacement is another Cork native Ian Flanagan and if he has even one-fifth of the impact Fitzgerald had with the province when he departs, he will have done a great job.
Flanagan previously held the position of commercial director at Leicester City between 2012 and 2016, during which time the Foxes were crowned Premier League champions.
It will be great to see how he brings his knowledge and experience from soccer into rugby union and I think a big part of his job description will be to look at the commercial properties that Munster rugby have to sell and how they can benefit financially from them.
I realise that these three changes are very much in their infancies and that the Munster faithful are not keen when it comes to waiting around for success, however, in this instance we might have to be tolerant and wait for it all to come together. How long that wait is going to be is a very hard question to guesstimate albeit, the most important thing is that the process has started.
If we were to look at Leinster and how quickly they got their act together, I do not think it would be a fair barometer to measure against.
Their numbers are greater, their academy is like a conveyor belt constantly churning out quality players, and they reportedly have lots of external financial contributors which ultimately determines the quality of your squad.
On the playing front, the most important thing to ascertain in the immediate future is a reliable number 10. No rugby team can establish themselves without a strong and assertive commander and general and at the moments all Munster have is a trinity of maybe men.
I cannot see Munster winning anything this or next year, however, if they continue to embrace change and take calculated risks, especially when attacking, the good times will return.
Of that, I have little doubt.
More in this section