Desire. Intensity. Great players, great teams change the order, they go out and make things happen. They don’t wait for others to do it for them, writes Ronan O’Gara
After Racing 92 fell flat at home to Glasgow in the Champions Cup, the last thing we needed was learning Munster had put 38 points on Leicester.
It wasn’t likely they’d kicked 11 penalties and a try.
The blowout put Munster on 10 points in Pool 1 with a game in hand.
Unless we go to Scotland tonight and turn last week’s result on its head, it’s going to be a fairly flat reunion in Limerick next month — at least from my perspective.
I won’t ever be a good loser.
By the time Munster take to the Welford Road pitch tomorrow to face Leicester again, Racing might already be out of contention for the Champions Cup, having gone all the way to the final in Lyon last season.
We will know after 20 minutes tomorrow whether Leicester’s pride and tradition is sufficient to turn around last weekend’s Thomond humiliation.
There has to be a reaction from them, just as there has to be one from the Racing players tonight at Scotstoun.
Home advantage is a huge factor in rugby, but if you are not at the right pitch mentally, you get turned over. We thought we could just show up and beat Glasgow, but we failed.
We didn’t play cup rugby.
Racing is trying to develop our game, but cup rugby brings its own imperatives, its own demands.
We were brilliant for the first 10 minutes, scored a cracking try and everyone on the pitch thought “this is easy”.
Racing had 253 passes, 80 more than we’ve ever attempted.
We didn’t kick the ball enough, we didn’t pressurise Glasgow.
We lost, turned over or knocked on the ball 25 times.
Enough there to lose three games.
The fact Glasgow were coming off three losses shows hunger in sport is still a cornerstone to success.
You can develop strategies all night but if the appetite isn’t at 100%, you can get beaten. Glasgow play a bloody good game and it compounded the sins of our loss at Leicester — a game we should have won but ended without even the consolation of a bonus point.
It would be so disappointing to be out of this great competition early.
The coaching staff is looking for signs from the squad this week that a repeat will not be tolerated.
This is where I get to analyse the French rugby psyche from the inside.
How much are the players willing to hang on in there in Europe?
How many are already mentally moving on to the Castres Top 14 game this night week?
Players who don’t fancy it use words like ‘fatigue’ when the air is seeping out of a dressing room.
The goal of every team management is to create a heightened competitive instinct in the squad.
When the club is Racing, with a strong cocktail of nations and cultures, you want the best elements of each culture to spark off one another.
If the predominant culture is French, things are one way, which requires the successful imports to right the balance.
It’s a delicate mix, and the ones that can tip things the right way, e.g., Dan Carter, are invaluable.
The good player shrugs his shoulders and says comme ci, comme ca; the champions say: “These are our standards, and we don’t compromise on them.”
Confidence is huge in sport.
If we don’t put Glasgow back on their asses in the opening exchanges, it’ll be a long night. Leicester must do likewise to Munster tomorrow.
I hope and presume, given their heritage, the Tigers will go full strength at Welford Road and that they won’t be looking over the fence at the next batch of Premiership fixtures, which see them face Exeter, Saracens, and Wasps.
I’d like to see Munster under the cosh.
They haven’t even had a wobble in Pool 1 because, crucially, they are controlling the scoreboard.
The reawakening of one of Europe’s rugby powerhouses is something that is being built with sturdy foundations.
The new management team headed by Rassie Erasmus has placed a big emphasis on structure, which makes direction easier for the team.
For that to yield such early promise suggests CEO Garrett Fitzgerald and the Professional Games Board (PGB) has been working assiduously in the background.
Garrett took plenty of flak when things were bad though he always said they were never as bad as people made out.
Erasmus has found a brilliant accomplice on the PBG in Dougie Howlett who operates on both commercial and rugby levels and is linking the two especially well.
Because he is so humble, Howlett won’t take any credit but you can be sure his impact is considerable.
The director of rugby and the CEO have been doing their business quietly and strategically.
Chris Farrell will be a brilliant addition from Grenoble and if JJ Hanrahan returns from the Saints, that gives Munster serious firepower in the backs.
You need a squad to be two deep in every position and imagine the quality of the training next season with the likes of a Bylendaal, Hanrahan, Scannell, Saili, Farrell, and others.
If they could only hold onto Jaco Taute…
And if Northampton isn’t working out for JJ, he needs to accept that, get back to Munster, get his head down and work.
He’s a talent.
Leinster’s victory at Franklin’s Gardens and Ulster squeezing out Clermont in an absolutely cracker at Ravenhill underlines the good place Irish rugby is in.
No surprise there — save a dodgy campaign or two, that’s where it belongs.
I can’t make my mind up whether Northampton’s Dylan Hartley went to do Sean O’Brien last Saturday or not.
A bit of me as a player, being in that position loads of times, understands that split second when the lad is falling, you’re committed, and it’s too late to pull out. But then there’s the other angle where Hartley just looks like he wants to do O’Brien.
Hartley’s an interesting sort.
He works well as a captain and a foil for the England coach Eddie Jones.
I get that chemistry.
But that wouldn’t work for the Lions who don’t do a Hartley sort of captaincy because it doesn’t represent what the four countries are about and what a totemic figure the Lions captain must be.
Dylan’s disciplinary record isn’t good, and with six more weeks on the sideline to come, there’s little point in camouflaging the rap sheet in the context of the Lions captaincy issue.
The likelihood is for Warren Gatland, that’s too big a risk to take — playing with 14 players in a test match against the All Blacks in New Zealand. For the time being, the hooker can do zero but take his medicine.
He has led England through a perfect 2016 but knows 2017 may well define his rugby career.
Not that anyone of us should get too far ahead of ourselves.
Six months ago, we all eyed the Champions Cup schedule, myself included, and circled the two Munster dates for Racing, especially the Thomond Park game.
Whether Racing are out of contention by the January 21 weekend I don’t know, but there’s a win every time you play a European cup match at Thomond Park.
The club, the players I represent now in France will get a whiff of what true cup rugby is like from the real Munster.
Great players, great teams change the order, they go out and make things happen.
They don’t wait for others to do it for them.
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