Suited up in London on Tuesday night for a special Munster Rugby fundraising dinner, there was a sense of something in the room.
It wasn’t necessarily the whiff of money generated by a cabal of successful business men and women breaking bread and reminiscing over 2006.
It was more a feeling of momentum. Gathering momentum.
No-one has an exact date and location when Munster drifted to the sidings, or whether indeed they did.
But from where the province was 18 months ago, things looked and felt a whole lot more positive from where I was sitting Tuesday night.
When Racing 92 confront the newest Red representatives in the Champions Cup on Sunday in Colombes, there won’t be any dewy-eyed sentimentality on either side. I know perhaps half a dozen of the present squad, if even that. My vintage were at the function at the Grosvenor House Hotel. Marcus Horan, Mick O’Driscoll, Paulie, Freddie Puciariello, John Kelly, Anthony Horgan, Doug Howlet, Ian Dowling, and Tomás O’Leary
Shaun Payne and Trevor Halstead were flown in from South Africa. Freddie came from Argentina. It’s not long ago that everything seemed to be skimping and scraping, but the boys were flown in at Munster’s expense and that is a nice gesture. Word like that gets out. Munster are open for business again. That stirs a bit of confidence. There was a lot of serious businessmen moving and shaking in the room Tuesday, which was really encouraging. The Commercial Board, with Dougie Howlett as its front-of-house ambassador are pushing good buttons.
The auction items clipped along nicely. There’s a passion out there for Munster Rugby beyond Cork and Limerick, and much of it is well-resourced passion. The business of sport demands that Munster tap into that.
If I said it was yesterday before attention turned to what the playing side of the business will bring to Paris Sunday, you should understand why.
Between recovery from the Stade Francais match and the hearings on Wednesday into the alleged misuse of cortisone by three of our players, it’s been a shapeless, messy sort of week. I’ve said my piece on the hearings and our president Jacky Lorenzetti hasn’t been slow to express his distaste for loose talk around the issue, but I will add this again. What Dan Carter, Juan Imhoff and Joe Rocokoko are accused of is wrong, factually and morally.
Getting a shot to reduce pain or swelling is not cheating, nor performance-enhancing. I don’t and won’t ever see this - and this is the staple diet of rugby injuries, being bashed and bruised and turning ankles and reducing inflammation - as cheating.
I’m not even sure Dan Carter will make Sunday against Munster, with ongoing shin and calf injuries. With Leicester the following week, there’s no way you risk him in the hope that he gets through it, but with the pay-off that he is out for another three or four weeks after. That’s not the way the club works.
Our captain Dmitri Szarweski is out, Bernard Le Roux is a doubt, and there will be no Munster reunion for Casey Laulala, who has a torn tricep.
Let’s dispense with the pious platitudes. We need to win and we need to perform. But Racing are in an unknown place at the minute. We’ve yet to put together anything approaching an 80 minutes, and we’ve lost every away game which tells its own story. We were lucky last Saturday against Stade. Camille Chat came off the bench to pinch the win for us. As I alluded to here last week, the issue isn’t getting used to being champions of France, it’s more can we deal with being champions?
There’s a positive energy about playing European Cup. To be honest we need a change of scenery. Mr Lorenzetti came out this week and told the squad that the Champions Cup was a priority for the club this season. Quite a few Racing players will have their eyes opened about Munster intensity and doggedness on Sunday. They will get a better understanding of what it means to have trust within a playing group. Things are very different in France, where year-on-year player turnover is huge. There’s massive trust in Irish squads, because a share of them spend the majority of their careers in the same dressing room, going to the front line with the same colleagues. The quality of player in Top 14 rugby is very good for sure, but some may discover this Sunday that if you get into an arm wrestle with Munster, you won’t often come out on top.
That priceless quality began to evaporate in Munster over the past few seasons, but there seems a degree of confidence now that there’s a corner turned.
This time last year in Paris, against Stade, Munster reached their nadir. There were dreadful errors that day, a real low. There were errors too, some bad luck to boot, last Saturday against Leinster but not the type you’ll see repeated.
The return fixture in Thomond Park will be special, but Stade Yves Manoir is a soulless place. It’ll be grand. Everything moves on. If I was coaching against Paulie, Wally, John Hayes and Quinny, it would be odd, but that is not going to happen., They’re a new group with two South Africans coaching. I’ve parked my playing career, and my coaching career doesn’t really overlap with Munster.