In his short time at Munster, Damian de Allende has seen the progress his new Munster team-mates have made and the impact their coaches are having on the way the province plays, but for the World Cup-winning Springbok, Leinster remain the yardstick.
It was the arch-rivals in blue that de Allende faced first following his much-heralded move from Japan last summer, the superstar centre making his debut in red at Aviva Stadium when the Guinness PRO14 resumed from suspension on August 22. This Saturday will be his third attempt to beat the defending champions and a victory at Thomond Park would certainly make for a significant milestone in Munster’s progress. But it will need a similarly significant statement performance to get there and the South African believes under the guidance of head coach and compatriot Johann van Graan and senior coach Stephen Larkham that this is a team now capable of delivering it.
"I think for me personally what I can see he's bringing to the guys is the freedom of decision-making,” De Allende, 29, said of Larkham’s impact on Munster’s attack.
"Obviously every team has a bit of structure and sometimes you have to stick to the structure, but within that structure it's whatever you see in that moment, just try and play it as naturally as you can.
"We're all here because of a natural talent, and I think sometimes if there's too much structure you can get a bit lost and almost play like a robot and not with your natural ability.
None more so than the young players, professional and still in the academy, who have been making their mark in Munster’s great start to the 2020-21 campaign that has seen them lose just once in the PRO14 in nine games and beat European rivals Harlequins and Clermont Auvergne (away).
“I think it's been incredible. We have a different style of playing in South Africa, coming to the structures, but I think the thing that stands out the most to me is the amount of effort the youngsters put in off the field.
“The skill that they actually have at a young age. It's not just passing and catching, it's stepping and kicking off both feet. It's that decision making under pressure and I think that's one thing that is very nice to see, especially in training when you get put under a lot of pressure and when you get to the match, it's like you've seen that picture already and that's very nice when you've quite a few 19-20-year-olds in your team. They're putting you under pressure and they're making you better as a player.”
De Allende also credits van Graan in that regard, crediting the former Springboks assistant coach for his understanding of attack and the “pictures he sees, whether that's on attack or defence or kicking, it's really awesome to see as well.
“The way he makes us feel comfortable and believe not just in the structure but in each other, I think that's really, really cool and really, really important, not just for the individual but for the whole squad going forward.
“That confidence that he's given us has benefited not just the individual but the squad as a whole, and believing in your own ability and making that better for the team going forward.”
The former Stormer believes Leinster represents a mountain every bit as difficult to conquer as beating Clermont in France had been last month. He admitted getting a “bit of a fright” from the early barrage that saw the home side race into a 28-9 lead inside 25 minutes and which reminded him of a tough day’s Super Rugby in Christchurch against Crusaders.
There was an outcome to celebrate, however, at Stade Marcel Michelin but de Allende warned: “I think this is going to be another test.
“It’s a different ball game to what Clermont bring but I think the intensity will still be the same and the physicality will still be the same. It’s very close to Test-match level.
“If we want to be the best we have to beat the best and Leinster at the moment are the best, especially in our competition at the moment and so we’re really looking forward to the challenges, but like I said earlier it’s very important for us to stick to our processes and do what we’ve been doing well and when the opportunity comes, just take them with both hands and hopefully we can put them under pressure on Saturday.”