The appointment of Anthony Foley as Munster’s next head coach was great, the timing was right, and I think there is so much more to come from him that we haven’t yet seen.
This is Axel’s time. He’s done his apprenticeship and the moment has come for him to have a right crack off it. The timing is perfect for him and I’d be extremely confident of the progress Munster will make under his tutelage.
Axel will bring loads more to the Munster job that we’ve already seen from his work in defence and with the forwards, and that’s because he’s never been the head man. When you’re the head man, you can do things your way and when you’re not, you have to the toe the line.
That’s what Axel has done up to now because he’s so respectful of the other people he works with but once he’s the boss, he’ll bring whatever ideas he wants, and he’ll have lots of them because he’s really intelligent.
I think he’ll surprise a lot of people by the detail he’ll have. He knows Munster better than anybody. The start of the success in Munster was from the Shannon club side, from Niall O’Donovan, Brian O’Brien, Axel and Gaillimh and these players, and Axel has never left. He kept playing and then went straight into coaching, so he knows all the nooks and crannies of Munster Rugby and he’ll have a really good handle on it, being homegrown. That’s important. His ability as a coach is as good as anyone’s from the southern hemisphere and this is a great opportunity not just for Axel but for Munster Rugby too, because he eats, sleeps and drinks Munster Rugby. That’s how passionate he is about it.
There are still backroom positions to fill for next season and the most important thing about those is that Axel should select them. If someone is forced upon him, it’s not going to work. He’s going to be the boss and if you’re the boss, there’s no constraints, so it’s important he has full say because then he has full accountability for how the whole team performs.
Axel said last week that he benefited working with Rob Penney and Simon Mannix these last two years and Rob and Simon will have had some great ideas. The beauty for Axel now will be that he can pick the best from what they had to offer and from other people and then try and marry it all together. That will make it exciting to be a player in Munster.
That will apply to the backroom staff also because, never mind the job title, the aim is to get the players to perform to the best of their ability.
Someone already doing that at Munster is Ian Costello.
Cossie is a bloody good coach. He’s studious, his work rate is extremely high and he has a huge interest in developing Munster Rugby. He’s taken stepping stones to get where he is today and the reality is he’s an assistant coach there already, he does so much of the work, so the obvious thing for him is to be retained exactly where he is.
In other words I don’t think the job title makes any difference, whether he’s backs coach or assistant coach, from his point of view all he’d worry about is being there. He deserves to be there because he works extremely hard and puts so much into it.
Axel and Cossie’s day is about to come but there’s plenty of life left in this season for us all to be getting on with. Racing Metro play Castres at home tomorrow but we will be without Johnny Sexton, who came back to Paris after Ireland’s Six Nations defeat to England with his thumb in a splint.
The latest news is he’s out between 10 days and six weeks. He’ll be released to Irish camp on Sunday and will see a specialist on Wednesday and that will determine whether he plays against Italy a week tomorrow.
I think he has a tear in the ligament in his thumb and it will depend on how feels after having a splint on it all week. If the specialist isn’t confident, he’ll be ruled out against Italy and they’ll reassess again the following week before France.
Six weeks is the worst-case scenario. It may settle down, it may require an operation, but you should know that by next Wednesday. For now, he’ll have to take it day by day.
That obviously has a big impact on Joe Schmidt’s plans but it has a bigger impact on mine. With Juan Hernandez and Jon Wisniewski already injured, that’s three fly-halves gone now and we’ve just Benjamin Dambielle fit.
Four fly-halves just isn’t enough anymore, it seems, and they wanted a fifth one too, but he won’t be tempted. I’ve had my fun. We’ll have to convert centre Fabrice Estebanez into a No.10 for this weekend’s game against Castres.
It’s frustrating for Johnny. When you lose, you just want to play in the next possible game, no matter what level it’s at, to get the England game out of the head. There shouldn’t be many demons, just the disappointment of losing, and it’s always nice to get back on the pitch straight away.
Johnny got some flak after that loss, but if we’d have won, people would have been calling it one of the greatest performances ever in Twickenham.
It’s quite amazing how easy it is for people to go from one viewpoint to the other. I just don’t get it. You’ve just got to be very detailed about how you analyse the game as opposed to all those sweeping comments, which is just the quick way of looking at it.
The Irish team is playing very well. Obviously the Australia game was hugely disappointing but other than that, it’s been hugely consistent and very good.
Twickenham is a bloody difficult place to go and I think the players should be appreciated for the crack they’ve given it. History tells you that against England, the games we’ve won have been by six points or less while the games we’ve lost have been into the 20s, because the team has become mentally weak. But this was a proper Test match from the off.
The amount of ‘ball in play’ time was phenomenal and it’s hard to train for that. Watching it back on the video, the match clock reads five minutes and 31 seconds and the Ireland defence is too tight, there’s seven Irish forwards ruck-watching, you could throw a blanket over them and there’s no-one in front of them. If Billy Vunipola makes the right play there’s a walk-in try for England and it all started with a quick throw from Chris Robshaw to Danny Care inside their own 22.
The pace of the game was incredible and our scramble defence was really good but that’s something Les Kiss will be alerted to. We have some good players but it just shows what happens when the brain is deprived of oxygen, and they’re put under pressure.
Wales didn’t play very well on the day in Dublin because Ireland didn’t let them and at times England didn’t really let Ireland play as they would have liked and Owen Farrell probably cost England two tries, but it was just a proper Test game. The atmosphere was cracking and if Ireland had added to that try just after half-time, even with a penalty, I reckon it was game over. That little chip over by Johnny and Brian’s controlled fly hack which was goalkeeper saved by Mike Brown, that’s just terrific play and these are the things on which games turn.
Look at Ireland’s first attacking lineout. Ball off the top, Drico’s great carry through Twelvetrees, which generates quick ball. D’Arcy runs a pre-planned, short dummy block line, Murray hits Sexton and with a three on two for Ireland with Brown 30 yards back closing the door, the ball comes to Rob Kearney. I think Joe Schmidt will have spotted the improvement needed to Rob’s running line to enhance the ability of his brother outside him to have a crack off Brown in that amount of space. That’s not having a pop off Rob Kearney, he’s in the form of his life, but it was that close and those are the fine margins we’re talking about.
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