'I have never seen us as fit. It's down to skills under pressure' - Rowntree sure Munster can turn ship around, and quick

Performances like last Sunday’s error-strewn, ill-disciplined and downright sub-standard effort in Newport are not supposed to happen to incoming coaches but Rowntree is pragmatic and experienced enough to know how to react it behind the scenes
'I have never seen us as fit. It's down to skills under pressure' - Rowntree sure Munster can turn ship around, and quick

QUICK FIX: Munster Head Coach Graham Rowntree. ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

It was in an interview with a Sunday newspaper at the weekend that Graham Rowntree said he would front up to the media during Munster’s “big weeks and drama weeks” and it has not taken long for that opportunity to present itself on both fronts.

In the normal scheme of things, a home fixture against Zebre Parma at Musgrave Park this Saturday evening would not qualify for either of those situations but events over the opening two rounds of the BKT United Rugby Championship campaign conspired to bring the head coach front and centre yesterday as Munster staged their weekly online press conference.

Two sloppy performances at Cardiff and Dragons have handed the province back-to-back defeats and their worst start to a league campaign since the Celtic League began in 2001-02. Only the 2004-05 campaign got off to a comparable start when Alan Gaffney’s men lost at Ospreys, drew at home in Cork to Connacht and were then beaten at Donnybrook by Leinster.

That they lifted the trophy the following May will not offer much comfort to Rowntree, who if not quite doubling down on his scathing assessment of his team following their 23-17 loss at Rodney Parade last Sunday, said little to suggest that his assessment had softened in the days since.

“I'm still annoyed,” the Munster boss muttered at the suggestion his mood was, 48 hours on, still of the darker variety.

“I require honesty from my players, so they are going to get honesty from me and they are comfortable with that. Again, we can't hide away from our inabilities on Sunday.” 

Performances like last Sunday’s error-strewn, ill-disciplined and downright sub-standard effort in Newport are not supposed to happen to incoming coaches but Rowntree is pragmatic and experienced enough to know how to react it behind the scenes at Munster’s University of Limerick training base, even if this is his first time as the man at the top.

“Well, I could have done without it, to be honest with you. I would have preferred better results, but no, you deal with what's in front of you.

“I have been around long enough to understand how to speak to people, control my emotions at the right time. But (it's) a different experience (being head coach), a different experience.” His confidence and belief in his squad has not wavered and as a group both management and players have resolved to move on and right the wrongs with Rowntree determined they will stop coming cardinal sins on the pitch and start controlling the controllables.

Sixteen turnovers, 15 penalties conceded, 13 handling errors and 31 missed tackles tell their own sorry story and the head coach said: “They are certainly not undercooked. I have never seen us as fit. It's skills under pressure, things just didn't work out for us and again, it's a lot of stuff that we can control.

“Trying to force things that's just not us. Ill-discipline, we've not had such a high penalty count for a long time. That's on us. That's our controllable.

“We have had a good, stern, honest review. We move forward. What else can you do? You work on what you can do and you look forward to the next game.

“As I said earlier, I have nothing but belief in the body of work we've done for the last few months. It's just got to come out now.” Rowntree acknowledged there was an element of overthinking behind the error count with Munster squandering a number of promising opportunities against the Dragons with poor decision-making and pass execution.

“I can't say to a guy 'stop dropping the ball', but I can say to a guy 'we don't practice that kind of pass, you're trying to force things, stick to the plan'. They're the ones that frustrated me, where we didn't stick to the plan, and were trying to be too fancy. Trying to make overhead, long bridge passes, where little handling passages would do.” Lessons need to be learned and quickly if defeats like last Sunday’s are not going to come back and bite Munster next spring when they are looking to secure a home quarter-final in the end of season URC play-offs but Rowntree is not one to hide from the tough realities of the present.

“The word I've used is I'm not trying to 'sugarcoat' anything. If there's a bad game and mistakes and discipline, it has to be better. I put my hand up as head coach, but we're working on it.”

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