How much coffee is too much coffee when you need to sleep? And I need some sleep. There’s a delicate balance to these things. Like how much downtime does a player require when he’s also trying to maintain match sharpness ahead of the biggest game of the season? How many front liners can you rest while also trying to maintain a Top 14 push?
Such balance is informed by priorities. And at this minute La Rochelle’s priority is Twickenham on Saturday week. We’ve just lost two Top 14 games in the space of three days. That’s never good but at times it has to be contextualised. The beauty of where we are is that we are presented with these brilliant dilemmas. Fighting on two fronts is a great problem to have. Only ourselves and Toulouse have it.
Science has its role in relation to maximising the output of every player in your squad. But when you examine the balance between resting players and ensuring they maintain their game edge, it’s all so different for every individual. One size does not fit all over such a long season with such different injury profiles and game time requirements. Honestly, I’ve done a lot of it in recent times on feel. Because everyone is in a different headspace in this regard. Some lads like to keep their eye in and need to play. Others, scientifically and psychologically, require time to cool the jets.
I fully understand the view here in the club that there is huge prestige involved in the Bouclier and we don’t like to lose any game, but we will go all out this weekend at home to Agen and then refocus on the domestic championship after Europe. The good thing is we are still second, with the top six making the playoffs. Over the course of a marathon season, we have put ourselves in a place where we could afford to shuffle the pack in the last week and see some of the younger talent coming through at the club.
The planning is pretty much done, and the sides we fielded against Montpellier and Brive is part of that process. We could have won in Montpellier but were short on discipline. There is absolutely logic to the teams picked. For me, the winner takes it all at Twickenham on Saturday week, but even after that, there are two more Top 14 games to play before the play-offs.
Whether it’s the lockdown or the club keeping a lid on the pre-final hype, or a combination of both, but it’s been very much business as usual around the club this week. It’s weird. No mention of suits, which were a guaranteed treat when Munster got to Heineken Cup finals.
There’s that earthiness about this club that is admirable and which a lot of Munster supporters would relate to. It’s coming up on 10 years since Paul Darbyshire left us at the all-too-premature age of 41. He’d fit right in here. La Rochelle isn’t quite Warrington, but they’d love his vibe, his work ethic, how he went about his business.
I often think of the evening Quinny, Paulie and myself went to Warrington’s Rugby League game with St Helen’s. This was the bluest of blue collars. Chip vans, beers, bacon butties and real supporters. The terraces were packed with working-class, very north of England grafters. This was Darbs amongst his own, a roll-up-your-sleeves community who were honour-bound to do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. As Munster’s S&C coach, Darbs would have a lad in the gym at 6am and he’d do the session too. And at 7am. And at 8am, and he would do every bit. He never took a day for granted. Brian Carney also left a big mark on me. They were good with people and hence, good at their job. There is an unquestionable correlation. Good coaches tend to be good people with good manners and respect.
Scott Robertson guided the Crusaders to their fifth straight Super Rugby title last Saturday against the Chiefs. He could deliver a Masters on a people-based approach to elite performance. They are night and day in personality, but there’s a lot of common ground when I think of Darbs and Razor and their approach to folk. The Crusaders had lost to the Chiefs a month ago, but last Saturday pulled away in the championship minutes as all great teams do.
I take a bit of Darbs and a bit of Razor with me each and every day. You are a product of your experiences and though we were losing, I took a smidgen of pride in watching the La Rochelle Espoirs battle so gamely on Tuesday night against Brive. It felt nice to be in at the foundations of this club’s future, the likes of young out half Mathias Haddad and some others. We got an early view of what La Rochelle will be like in two or three years’ time. Darren Sweetnam did very well against Montpellier on Saturday at full back, where, I would say, he prefers to play.
There’s always a little bit of that big picture stuff going on, but once we get this weekend sorted, every waking minute, every cup of coffee, will be spent planning on our first European Cup final.
Because if you don’t get your detail right now, that long-term project won’t be as long as you’d hoped.