David Corkery on rugby: Munster finding form at the right time

Graham Rowntree and his coaching ticket seem to be pushing all the correct buttons at this moment in time
David Corkery on rugby: Munster finding form at the right time

Munster's Liam Coombes makes a break on his way to scoring. Picture: INPHO/Tom Maher

FOR the first time in a very long time, Munster’s trajectory needle seems to be heading in the correct direction.

Not all the signs, but the majority of them are pointing north and the apparently unfixable jigsaw seems to be coming together however, the next two results will give us a real and genuine interpretation as to where Munster truly stand in the greater scheme of things.

Apart from the foreseeable and understandable end-of-season departure of Ben Healy to Edinburgh where he can look to fulfil his dreams of playing international rugby with Scotland, the wheels of progression for Munster rugby finally seem to be shifting out of second and into third gear.

Ben Healy of Munster during the United Rugby Championship between Munster and Emirates Lions at Musgrave Park. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Ben Healy of Munster during the United Rugby Championship between Munster and Emirates Lions at Musgrave Park. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

I am fully mindful that the province are a long way off from where they need to be in order to win silverware and they are still shy of a few quality players in key positions. However, Graham Rowntree and his coaching ticket seem to be pushing all the correct buttons and saying all the right things at this moment in time.

It may have taken longer than expected for Rowntree to stamp his authority on this group of players, but where once there was a timid and accepting culture where losing was deemed acceptable, there now lies a hardened edge that knows that in order to succeed, you must be prepared to suffer and think outside the box of conformity; which is a philosophy Johann van Graan failed miserably to introduce during his five seasons with the province.

Since early December 2022, Munster have played six games, winning four and narrowly losing two, but amazingly enough, it’s the learnings from the losses that have reaped the greatest rewards.

In sport or even in life there are two ways you can look at a loss.

The first kind is when you look to forget about it as quick as possible and just pretend it never happened.

This is by far the most dangerous way of dealing with defeat and whilst it may not happen immediately, you can be as sure as night follows day that if you ignore the crashing results of your labour you will find yourself walking a lonely road because you can be damn sure that those around you will be very happy to stand back and point the finger of blame directly in your direction.

The second way of looking at a loss is using it as a learning tool and this is done by dissecting it into individual sections and trying to decipher why the preferred end goal was never achieved.

At times this can be a difficult thing to do because as a coach and more often than not, the reason why failure was realised was that all the players were doing was conforming to your game plan.

For me, the key difference between this year's setup is honesty and trust.

The honesty bit comes in the seconds, hours and days after a loss and it is recognisable not only by the players' and coaches' body language, but also by their next performance and since December Munster’s reaction to a loss has been to follow it up with a win.

The honesty part of the deal comes mostly from the coaching department and it derives when you see the next generation afforded the opportunity to bring the jersey to a better place.

CLOCK TICKING

Dare I say it, but the sands of time are not standing still for heroes such as Keith Earls, 35, Peter O’Mahony, 33, Conor Murray, 33, Dave Kilcoyne, 33 and when you see the enthusiasm that Craig Casey, Gavin Coombes, Shane Daly, Thomas Ahern, John Hodnett, Calvin Nash, Paddy Patterson and most notably Jack Crowley are bringing to the party you can see why there is an air of freshness starting to bellow through the Munster dressing room.

Munster’s John Hodnett receives the BKT Player of the Match award recently. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Munster’s John Hodnett receives the BKT Player of the Match award recently. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

The black, green and gold jerseys of Northampton who will descend upon Thomond Park tomorrow have lost both of their games in Europe so far, failing to pick up a point in the process.

That means their hopes of going any further in the competition are hanging by a thread and because of this I could almost put my life on it that Munster will win this game at a canter. I would even go as far as to suggest that a bonus point victory will be achieved.

From the way Northampton’s coach Phil Dowson is talking he is looking at this game as an opportunity for the lesser experienced players in his squad to gain some valuable game time in a hostile environment and when your coach is speaking like that, your chances of winning are as good as dead in the water.

Barring a catastrophic string of occurrences in tomorrow’s game, Munster should be taking a serious amount of momentum into next week’s true test of any team when they travel to Toulouse.

A solid win tomorrow with no injuries is all we can ask for and after that we can start looking forward to next week’s showdown against a side whose pedigree derives from the purest rugby has to offer.

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