Hell of a day for the head Wednesday. A round of media interviewswith Le Parisien, L’Equipe, RMC radio et al. Thinking your way through a minefield of questions about your future, about Leinster, about the race for the Bouclier is taxing enough in English but transferring the entire thought process to French can feel gruelling. All my day-to-day communications are in the native tongue now. It’s sometimes soothing to hear the soft lilt of a Cork man almost speaking English.
That’s why you get tired. Think in English, translate to French but deliver in real time. Coaching in English sometime in the future will be a lot easier.
But that won’t be for some time yet. The plan is to be here in La Rochelle until 2024. If the family agrees and the project is right, the terms and conditions were the easy part. Two years or three? I wanted to commit the next three years to La Rochelle, because we are just getting started with this project. That is the overriding thought. The players and I are getting used to each other, and I’ve been inspired by the attitude and performances of many in the group. They are in a rich groove of form. Have they bought into what we are trying to do? They have to the extent of what we have set out thus far but with no competitive rugby last season, it’s only now I am getting properly into this project. And so from July 1, we would be looking to ratchet that up because La Rochelle is not where you’d like it to be. We are all nowhere near our ceiling.
But there’s so much to like about where we have come from and where we are heading. Plus, whom we are doing it with. The club president Vincent Merling and the club’s managing director Pierre Venayre are level-headed and ambitious. That was hugely important in my decision. I feel I have two executives who are genuinely supportive and operate on a can-do basis. On the rugby decisions going forward, there won’t be outside influences, which can be incredibly frustrating and can happen a lot here in the Top 14. I would have had to have been majorly unhappy to consider leaving. Loyalty is something I value and getting involved in something you care about is very important to me.
This may seem like a big deal on the outside, but within these walls, it was pretty obvious what the next step was for me. I will always love Munster and I had a casual chat a couple of years back where it was left open-ended that we might pick up a conversation if or when I was thinking about coming home - and if that coincided with an opening in some capacity.
Whatever the flipside is of ‘when it rains it pours’ has been my experience of late - London buses and all that has meant there’s been a few different options to consider but they will remain confidential. Obviously, you weigh up all your options, but ultimately it comes down to family being settled and happy. The prospect of moving the kids out of school again was a huge consideration; in fact, it would have been just too problematic even if there was an offer from elsewhere that I might have been curious about.
Between all those press interviews Wednesday, I had that really good conversations with the president and the CEO (in French) and we were all on the same page. So much so that the actual job title wasn’t a big deal. Which says a lot. Once you are doing something that you really enjoy, I don’t tend to be particular about titles though in France my experience is that people and players like to compartmentalise their duties and responsibilities.
So ‘head of the professional team’ it is.
I suppose in old money, that means the manager who is responsible for recruitment, culture, the environment. What I love is coaching, and I will get better at delegation. When I look at the coaching trajectory since I finished playing, it’s been encouraging, and I no longer feel in a vulnerable place where I am looking over my shoulder.
I’ll need to get better at IT but we have good analysts here along with the coaching staff. Greater overall responsibility for the rugby program means contracts and recruitments and in that regard, La Rochelle still has some ends to tie up ahead of the 2021-22 season. We still have to improve competencies in a number of areas.
Some of those decisions with regard to the roster have been complicated by injuries to both our number tens in recent weeks. Jules Plisson was already out with a hamstring injury so Murphy’s Law decreed that Ahaia West would damage his AC joint in the act of scoring a try against Lyon last Saturday.
He took the conversion after and it was very apparent he was in serious discomfort. Neither is out of consideration for the Leinster game on Sunday week but it’s not ideal preparation to have neither in the build-up.
If the circumstances of Saturday's postponed game against Brive are unfortunate (Covid cases), getting a break before the Champions Cup semi-final is a lucky break. It gives is a two-week run in to prepare for Leinster, but as important is the fact it affords us the chance to give the players a few days off to recharge the batteries before the final lap of the season. We returned to training yesterday with full focus on Sunday week.
Conceding two late tries in the victory over Lyon wasn’t as big a deal as some might think. What was imperative from management’s point of view was backing up the performance against Sale with something similar and to put 38 points on Lyon for the win was the priority. We let them back into the game but we were never in any danger. In terms of building, that game was all about the four points. You have to be realistic at times.
Darren Sweetnam got on for some minutes and he might feel a bit sore about not stopping the exit at source that eventually led to Josua Tuisova scoring 80m downfield after. That will all dissipate once he starts getting some proper minutes into his legs. With Montpellier, Brive and Agen in an eight-day period after the Leinster game, he won’t be short of game time.
Besides, like the rest of us here, you’d prefer to be complaining about too many games at this stage of the season than none at all.