RONAN O'GARA: New year but no point sugar-coating Munster malaise

New Year’s resolutions? Don’t believe in them, writes Ronan O’Gara

Is it too corny to say I want to be the best I can be? Ever since Paul Darbyshire died, I look at things differently. I don’t look too far ahead.

You can make all the great plans — and I’ve had a few offers here and there — but you have to look after the now in terms of a professional career. Every week, there’s new challenges at Racing 92. It’s fascinating and intense. If I didn’t feel I was making a difference, I’d be gone out the gap. We have some serious players, Dan Carter coming in, Juan Imhoff, Joe Rocokoco, Chris Masoe. It’s a really good environment, but it’s taken two years to create.

And then I flick on the TV and watch the interviews with Anthony Foley after the Leicester and Leinster losses. All I could think of was a Premier League manager. It was horrible, and you can see Axel is in a horrible place emotionally.

He is a Munster man coaching Munster. It’s all he cares about. Ever since he was a boy in short pants, all Axel wanted to do was play with Shannon and play with Munster when the standards went up. The game at Welford Road in the Champions Cup was a fascinating tussle, and 11 or 12 of the Munster boys had really good games.

But Axel’s body languageafterwards betrayed the torture he felt in defeat. It was staggering to see how upset he was. The level of hurt and pain, the sense of pressure was something, to repeat, I would normally associate with Mourinho or van Gaal.

Foley never experienced such a dip as a player. I can only imagine what he and the players are feeling. If we lost one game in the past, it triggered a massive inquisition. To lose five on the bounce... Now confidence is an issue. After the Leicester game, when Munster came up short,subconsciously players begin to wonder ‘am I good enough?’. ‘Are we good enough?’ You go on the field and put in the same preparation and same effort, but you start to doubt you’ll get over the line.

The tiny things that matter, the things that give the forwards that little carrot. If they don’t see the bright lights of the scoreboard edging in their favour...

In that context, the reliability of the kicker is a big issue. You have to break an opposition mentally first, then the points come.

But even if you’re on the ropes, there’s no harm having a kicker who’ll get a sneaky three points for you. Munster aren’t getting that.

Going to Belfast this weekend isn’t going to offer a handy pick-me-up either. Minus Conor Murray, Munster are lacking someone other than Stander to take the bull by the horns. The good thing about Axel is he is not sugar-coating or spinning the issues, which the supporters will acknowledge. They are hugely exercised and frustrated at the moment but at least the top man isn’t coming out with a load of porkies.

He confirmed this week that they drafted in kicking technician Dave Alred for a day. I don’t know how productive that can realistically be, but at least they’re not sitting on their hands.

If you get to work consistently with the likes of Alred at a young age, he is a master technician, but I know myself from trying to advance my technique via email — that a piecemeal approach can actually throw more mist on the fog. From the coach’s standpoint, Foley will always back his kicker, as he should, but at what point does management have to try something different? Everyone misses a kick.

I don’t know of anyone in world rugby who hasn’t fluffed a gimme atsome stage, but when it’shappening five or six times, what is a coach to do? If there is a crumb of comfort for Munster, it might be here in Paris, where they travel next week for the rescheduled Champions Cup tie.

Stade lost a bad game to Oyonnax at the weekend, again underlining that without Sergio Parisse, they are not the same team.

The Stade game will all come down to attitude. Munster’s back is pinned to the wall now.

And Stade might have to prioritise getting into the Top 14 play-offs, so they mightn’t have two eyes on Europe.

Watch for the team news next week — it’ll be very interesting to see what XVGonzalo Quesada puts out, and where their head is at. If you wanted to play a team in France at the moment, it’sprobably Stade.

Racing meet Bordeaux this weekend in Paris, coming off our first win in Clermont in over 20 years. It wasn’t just the 20-16 victory that pleased. We made 12 changes from the team that drew in Northampton.

We left out Tales, Dumoulin, Nyanga,Rokocoko, Brice Dulin and the injured Teddy Thomas from the matchday squad and didn’t start Dan Carter. When the so-called first team is going well, the boys looking to be part of that have to up their game.

The perception is that the French Top 14 is getting stronger and stronger, and the money sloshing around the clubs gives that a certain credence. Our opponents this

weekend have just secured Ian Madigan for two years. Paul O’Connell will move his family out to Toulon next week.

The Madigan move will work well for both parties.

Bordeaux have a club president, Laurent Marti, who’s very into rugby, more so than a lot of benefactors who are looking it in strictly investment terms.

They are an ambitious set up, and there are reports that the Sevens sensation Virimi Vakatawa could also be going there.

Not because he’s a 10 or I am in France, but from my viewpoint this is a competition which just shades the Premiership.

What both have over the Guinness Pro12 is the cut and thrust of relegation, which makes them very credible in terms of the pressure to operate at full throttle. Relegation, or the threat of it, is like the sword of Damocles hovering over a club and a community — it impacts on jobs and local economies.

There is just so much at stake, and the availability of private investment funds obviously drives up standards. It’s an issue we have broached here before in terms of the Irish provinces and it may be unavoidable if the IRFU has any ambition to continue dining at Europe’s top table.

When you consider where the likes of Toulon are, it’s scary. Racing 92 have three rungs of the ladder to climb before we even consider ourselves at the same level.

And we have ambitions to win trophies! Munster’s ambitions at the moment amount to Ravenhill tomorrow.

So much can rise or fall over the next three weeks for Axel & Co...


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