Andrew Conway admitted he underestimated the impact Stephen Larkham and Graham Rowntree could have on Munster but extended training time with the pair has raised expectations for the potential that can be unlocked.
Munster’s Ireland internationals saw precious little of former Australia playmaker Larkham and ex-England and Lions forwards coach Rowntree before lockdown.
Senior coach Larkham arrived while Conway and his colleagues were in Ireland’s World Cup training camp and Rowntree arrived as forwards coach following his stint with Georgia at the tournament in Japan.
So while the non-Ireland Munster players were tapping into a wealth of rugby experience, Conway and company’s exposure to it was limited to European weeks before the 2020 SIx Nations campaign intervened.
The knock-on effect was a disappointing Champions Cup campaign which saw elimination at the hands of heavyweight pool rivals Racing 92 and Saracens but the return from Covid-19 lockdown has given the senior players a chance to catch up with head coach Johann van Graan’s complete coaching ticket.
That bodes well in terms of team cohesion for the 2019-20 resumption at the end of August and beyond and Conway, 29, is excited by the potential.
“It really just highlighted that you were a bit ignorant the last year, in that you just think: ‘Okay, we’ll be out and then jump back in and we’ll able to do this’,” Conway said of the fleeting interactions pre-lockdown.
“You’re able to do it to a certain level and then you get found out by the Racings and the Sarries and the Leinsters. You get through some games but Steve is using his knowledge and pushing us.
“He’s got a whole new thought process on things and he marries the skills with the mental applications of the game really well.
“We’re not going to be perfect straight away, don’t get me wrong, it would be unrealistic to think that but the foundation is going to be strong and then we need to start building from that.
“Obviously we need to build straight into a Leinster, then a Connacht, and then hopefully it will be knockout rugby straight away but I am excited.”
Conway was speaking on a Zoom call with rugby journalists as he launched a Pinergy competition giving Munster supporters the chance to deliver a virtual team talk ahead of the province’s first game back against Leinster in the Guinness PRO14 on August 22.
By then the Ireland star is hoping a full pre-season together as a complete squad can lead to the fast start necessary to negotiate the final two regular-season rounds against Leinster and Connacht and book a place in the PRO14 semi-finals in September.
“We’re getting proper time with coaches and getting proper time to have conversations,” Conway said.
“We can feel it training, and even the dialogue is easier to get through. There’s more of an understanding. They understand us more and we understand them more, and it’s exciting. It really is exciting. Obviously we say that the whole time but this feels like something a bit different.”
Munster will restart in do-or-die territory and Conway believes that could be just the trick to ending the province’s nine-year wait for silverware.
“We’re treating it more that we’re going straight back into knockout rugby and that will be in our mindset, which is probably different to what we’re used to. But it’s something we do have to change our mindset on to start having more success in knockout rugby further down the line.
“There’s obviously some reason why we’re not getting over those semi-finals and finals and I think this has been a good place for the coaches to have a think over that and see why.
“Treating games across the board as knockout rugby consistently is probably a good place to start so when you get to the knockout part it’s not this monster that you’ve built up. It’s the same as last week, the same as September and October.”
- Former All Black Andy Haden has died at the age of 69 after a long battle with cancer. The lock played 41 Tests between 1972 and 1985 and captained his country eight times while he also had a spell with Harlequins in England.