Friday night in Cork is set to be a major landmark for Stephen Archer, but he won’t be thinking about it too much.
Archer will become only the 11th player to join Munster’s ‘200 Club’, joining a hall of fame of provincial legends.
It’s close to a ‘who’s who’ of Munster’s glory years, including Donncha O’Callaghan, Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer, Marcus Horan, Billy Holland, John Hayes, Alan Quinlan, Mick O’Driscoll, David Wallace, and Anthony Foley.
Reaching that 200th appearance is a testament to Archer’s durability over the 10 years since his debut in 2009, also against Friday’s opponents Edinburgh, when Munster lost to four Chris Paterson penalties.
He has suffered the grinding injuries of tighthead props in that time, with his Munster player profile noting two neck injuries. The comeback from surgery remains a standout memory among 199 others.
“I remember coming back after getting an injury on my neck and neck surgery, and it was my 100th cap as I returned from a five- or six-month injury. I remember saying I am happy just to be back playing. That was one of the seminal moments but it’s been a really good journey so far.
“It goes very fast, 10 years, so there’s been ups and downs, lots of good days and lots of bad days. I suppose making your first European start, there have been great victories along the way, but not enough silverware. Hopefully, there will be a bit to go in the next few years.
“I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s a very proud moment for me and I’m looking forward to the game on Friday.”
Archer has been his usual ever-present self this season, starting the first four games and getting half-hour runs off the bench in the next four. He was there for the defining moments of last Saturday’s 21-all draw with Racing, as JJ Hanrahan’s sideline conversion levelled the game before he missed a drop goal to win it.
By training on Tuesday, though, sympathy for the out-half had moved on to the next stage of grief.
“Just before training the lads were practicing drop goals, the infamous one that he missed,” laughs Archer.
“There was a bit of that about it but JJ had a brilliant game overall and the conversion a couple of minutes before was a real turning point. There was a bit of both, the arm around him and abuse. The usual.”
He confirmed, alas, that no props were stepping up to take on the kick.
If there was a bit of comfort and abuse in training, there was also a mix of emotions leaving Thomond Park. Two points gained, two points lost.
“Yeah, it’s a bit of both, isn’t it? 20 minutes to go they’re hitting goal to go 10 points clear, they miss it, we fight back, and by the finish of the game, we’re on top of them. JJ nearly got that drop goal and there was a bit of a bittersweet feeling after it.
“We were quick to park that, though. We reviewed it Monday morning and it’s been all systems go now and back to the league.”
Archer doesn’t seem a man prone to extreme swings of emotion, with new forwards coach Graham Rowntree describing him as someone who “quietly gets on with things”.
“There’s a quiet confidence about Steve. He goes about his business, very professional, and the lads all respect him for that.”
Rowntree’s confidence might not be as quiet but he’s made an early impression on Archer.
“I remember him as a player. He’s the kind of guy with those big ears, you don’t forget them!
“We were waiting all summer until he finished with Georgia so there was that anticipation of him arriving. He’s going to be a great help for the front rows around here.
“So far it’s been really good. He’s a really enthusiastic fella, full of gusto but it’s really good gusto, it’s really detailed stuff. We’ve had a lot of hard sessions with him so far.”
Stephen Larkham’s appointment hasn’t gone without an impact on the scrummagers either:
“It’s second to our main job but with Steve coming in, the whole pack has had to up our skillset, to be comfortable catching and passing in the midfield. But it’s really an enjoyable way to play and he’s been great so far.”