FAIL to prepare, prepare to fail — that has become one of the many little motivation mantras used nowadays in sport at every level.
But what if you don’t know exactly what you’re preparing for? Take Marcus Horan and his front-row colleagues with Munster, who face Gloucester in the Heineken Cup quarter-final at Kingsholm tomorrow. Who have they been psyching themselves up to face? Will it be the dynamic trio of Nick Wood/Andy Titterall/Jack Forster or will it be the experienced Christian Califano/Olivier Azam/Carlos Nieto? Will it be a mix of both?
Will Jeremy Paul, Patrice Collazo and Scottish powerhouse Alastair Dickenson come into the mix?
It doesn’t really matter, according to Horan.
He explained: “They’re a well documented team on Sky Sports, they’re riding high in the Premiership so we see a lot of them. We’ve come across Nieto with Italy in the Six Nations. When you’re playing at that level you come across these fellas a bit more regularly and you build up a good database on fellas for yourself. The other side of that is that you can get too caught up in individuals as well. We’ve worked very hard on our scrum and while we do take into account who we’re playing, it’s maybe a matter of what we bring to the table more than what they do.”
The first option outlined above is an all-English line-up, the second is a mix of French and Argentine/Italian (Nieto was born in Argentina), the third is Australian, French and Scottish. All would bring a very different look to the front row, a different style of play.
Continued Horan: “We’ve watched a few of their games, they’re very strong. We try and gauge them off the teams we’ve both played, like the games we had against Wasps, we try to compare how we did, but then again you can’t read too much into that either. It’s all on the day. This is a Heineken Cup quarter-final, there’s going to be a different mood out there. We’re under no illusions; they’re at home, they’re going to have a tough pack out, it’s going to be hard up front.”
Munster too have their options, though their starting line-up is almost set in stone. Horan/Flannery/Hayes has been the one, two, three for Munster for the past couple of years, when all have been fully fit. Both Tony Buckley and Frankie Sheehan are champing at the bit while Freddy Pucciarello is also in the frame. All over the park there is good competition for places, and most of it is homegrown talent.
“For the last few years the squad has been building, there’s great competition for places, training is very intense, very competitive, and that’s important. From my early days with Munster, I suppose that wasn’t there. The last two weeks we’ve seen two different teams taking to the field against Ulster and Connacht and we came out with two wins. You draw confidence from that. But it was the squad that won those two games, not any particular team, which was probably the way it was in the past.
“That gives everyone a lot of confidence, we’re carrying the weight of the rest of the squad on our shoulders but that’s going to drive us on.”
Driving them also, the urge to put right the disappointment of both the World Cup and the recent Six Nations.
“For anyone coming off a situation where you’ve been disappointed with your previous performance, you just want to get straight back on the horse and put things right. Coming back here for the week of the Ulster game, guys were turning up to training very keen, looking to get back into the team. That’s a great sign, it’s probably the reason we’ve had two wins on the trot. Hopefully that will continue to Saturday, fellas are keen to put things right. We’re back in the European Cup now, a competition all Munster people love, we’ve got to embrace that, put in a performance.”