TWO wins on the bounce for the men in red and all of a sudden people are irrationally starting to view Munster’s prospects through rose-tinted glasses.
I am all for positive thinking, but the arrival of one swallow does not make a summer, or in Munster’s case, two wins hardly gives the groundsman in Thomond Park a reason to start looking for the key to the trophy cabinet.
While everyone knows Munster need to win something soon, their overall status must only be judged on a European spectrum and winning the Rainbow Cup will do little to scare the likes of Toulouse, Racing 92, Clermont, or Leinster to name but a few.
Let me remind you that there is no pot of gold at the end of this Rainbow Cup, and should Munster go on to win this competition, it must only act as a building block for next season and not be viewed as the finishing line.
Munster’s last two victories in a tournament that can only be viewed as something that was thrown together because of the pandemic were realised against a second-string Leinster side and an Ulster outfit that is very much in its infancy as a squad of substance.
I am in no way trying to diminish the efforts the players and coaches have put in. However, there has to be a realisation painted for people who think that just because Munster have dominated their last two Irish opponents, it gives them an entitlement to regain their seat at the top table of European rugby.
Re-claiming that throne can only be accomplished when there is a Champions Cup medal dangling from the players' necks, and I would think we are still a good bit away from that happening.
The most pleasing aspect of these last two wins was that the game-plan that has bored us all to death for the last 10 years seems to be a thing of the past, and in its place is a far more radical and risk-induced philosophy.
Apparently, Stephen Larkham, who joined the Munster coaching ticket in 2019, has assumed a much greater role in determining how the team goes about its business and from what we’ve witnessed over the last 160 minutes of Munster’s season, his influence is starting to yield positive results.
Gone seems to be the kick, chase, and hope style of play and what we are witnessing now is players are running onto passes that are not originating from a static starting point.
Forwards are looking to off-load before, during, or after the initial contact and this is creating momentum for the half-backs to challenge defences that are retreating and scrambling to regain their shape.
Static ball in the modern game is as useful as a chocolate tea-pot because teams now spend more time on the training ground practicing their defensive tactics than they do their attacking ones, and they will easily swallow up any ball carrier that is receiving a ball from a stationary position.
When you have players like Gavin Coombes, Peter O’Mahony, Keith Earls, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Conway, and Damian De Allende who like nothing better than to be taking a ball in full flight, what you have is a cohort of players who are easily capable of dragging Munster away from their traditional forward-based game and into the modern epoch.
The most important thing for the Munster coaches, the players, and the 16th man now is that they fully believe in Larkham’s way of thinking and not get disheartened if things do not happen immediately.
Rome was not built in a day, and they must be prepared to suffer the short-term losses for the long-term gain.
Next in the firing line for Munster is a trip to Connacht tonight and should they be successfu it will be the first time they will have amassed a clean sweep of victories over all three Irish provinces in a single season for a very long time.
The men from the west were given a very harsh lesson in ruthlessness against a hurting Leinster outfit last weekend when they lost by eight tries to two (21-50) and while Munster can expect a backlash, they should still easily dispense of their challenge.
I would love to see more of the younger generation start in games like this because these are the types of gritty clashes where they will learn their trade.
Munster’s attitude must be bordering on cockiness, but without being disrespectful, and they must use home advantage and momentum to strike early.
On their day, Connacht have the ability to match anyone, however, they are not in a good place at the moment and Munster must take full advantage of this.
Munster to win with a four-try bonus point.