If Johann van Graan and his players are going to have any hope of departing Paris with something tangible in the bag, they must not look for excuses or something to blame.
When your back is firmly nailed to the wall and nobody is giving you a chance in hell of turning the tide of dismay into a river of success, the easiest thing to do is look for external elements to hide behind and then offer these as reasons for your failings.
Controlling the controllable’s is a term that is often used in goal setting meetings. Basically, what it means is that players should only focus on stuff that falls under their control such as their fitness, what they eat / drink, how they sleep and so on. Items that they have no influence on such as the weather, the match day officials, what the opposition are planning to do and other players injuries should not enter their thought process because there is nothing they can do about them and they will only cloud their preparations.
In Munster’s case the very obvious and much talked about injury to Joey Carbery has grabbed all the headlines in the build up to this game and it offers van Graan a get out clause should the you know what hit the fan during tomorrows do or die game.
With Tadhg Beirne already ruled out with a long-term leg injury there was also concerns about J.J Hanrahan, Andrew Conway, Fineen Wycherley and Tommy O’Donnell however, injuries are very much a part of team sports and this is why you have a squad of players who should be adequately prepared to step up to the mark should their services be required.
I realise that all players have their own characteristic traits that can only be enhanced by the amount of experience they come with however, I would look at an injury as an opportunity for someone else and for any player who is coming in from the extremities, they should look at this game as their one and only chance of breaking through.
One of the biggest gripes that any coach has to deal with from a young or aspiring player is the lack of opportunity afforded to them, so when it arrives these players must grab it with both hands and bring something different, something special, something that starts the tongues wagging and defines their inclusion as the dawning of a new superstar.
Another vindication that can be offered up by van Graan is the arrival of the new coaches to the Munster team.
Every dog on the street was aware that Munster needed to change in how they went about playing the game and the arrival of Australia’s Stephen Larkham and England’s Graham Rowntree look to be good and logical inclusions however, similarly to injury scenarios their transition period must not be brought to the table as a reason for failure.
As head coach, van Graan’s job is to look at each game and tweak how his players go about winning it. This is what turns average coach’s into great leaders and when this season is completed, and the review process is concluded, Larkham and Rowntree cannot be sent forward as sacrificial lambs like Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones were last year.
I have no doubt that van Graan’s intentions are to return Munster to the summit of European rugby but need I remind you that this can only happen if the belief in the culture he is nurturing is embraced by all who take to the field.
The players themselves also have a massive part to play and there are times when the coaching ticket should be asked to leave the room and make sure the door is closed behind them.
Every single player in this Munster squad can be viewed as world class athletes and the choices they make on and off the field will ultimately determine the out come of every game.
A coach can bring his players to water, but he can’t make them drink it and when you miss a simple one on one tackle because you allowed your fellow opponent to dictate the terms of that tackle, there is only one person that should be held accountable.
Do I believe that Munster can win this game? You bet your life I do but in order to do so they must tick three boxes.
One. Eradicate all doubt from their minds and as I’ve spoken about in the previous paragraphs not look for excuses because if they do go looking, they will find.
Two. Not be afraid to take risks and to think outside the box of conformity. Ireland failed to do this during the World Cup and look at what happened to them.
Three. For the eighty minutes that the match clock is ticking, the players must undeniably hand over their bodies to the jersey because in recent games that little bit of dog that all great Munster sides have in abundance, has been absent without permission.
This may come across as gimmicky and old school however, when Peter O’Mahony and his fellow senior players have removed the coaches from the meeting room, replicating a few lines from Al Pacino’s speech during the movie, Any Given Sunday, might just be what this team needs.
A portion of it goes as follows, “On this team we fight for that inch. On this team we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know when we add up all those inches that’s gonna make the f****** difference between WINNING and LOSING, between LIVING and DYING” and if Munster lose tomorrow their dreams of returning into Shannon airport yielding a large silver trophy and being greeted by a mass of fans are as good as dead in the water.
Racing 92 also have a few injuries of their own to contend with and one of them is our very own Simon Zebo.
The electric and unpredictable Cork man rolled his ankle in the first-half of last weekend’s Top 14 win over Clermont and has not recovered in time. This might be good news for Munster but bad for the game as a spectacle because of the unconstrained way he goes about his business.
There have been some whispers doing the rounds that the flying maverick might be thinking about returning home in the near future. Wouldn’t that be a clever move by the IRFU?
Let there be little doubt about that this game is a watershed moment in Munster’s evolution and should they manage to pull it off, I have every confidence that it could act as the catalyst for great things to happen.
If there was ever a time for the senior players in this team to stand front and centre, now would be a great time to do so and whatever transpires, please don’t just lie down and have your bellies tickled.
Remember there can be no excuses.