Ronan O'Gara: Personality profiling the perfect team player

I like players who are receptive to learning and new ideas and I have the Denis Irwin of French rugby in our dressingroom.
Ronan O'Gara: Personality profiling the perfect team player

Jules Favre of Stade Rochelais holds off Tommy Freeman of Northampton Saints. Picture: Marc Atkins/Getty Images

YOU sit in on meetings with agents priming their players for a move and, at times, wonder are we all talking about the same guy when the conversation turns to fees and contracts.

On the drive home across the bridge into Ile de Re, it’s easy to start thinking how lucky we are to have diamonds like Ultan Dillane and Jules Favre to work with every day.

Dillane is beginning to show the form that attracted us to the proposition in the first place. Irish gems are rare these days. The national team is going extremely well, no-one who has aspirations in that regard will entertain the trade-off of being frozen out of the international set-up. It’s a firm Irish stance and right now, all the cards are stacked in the IRFU’s favour. The centralised contract system is being studied by several other unions now. Ultan Dillane didn’t see green in his immediate future and chased a new experience. These things take time, but he is beginning to show real quality at six, and we are very pleased with him this past month or so. He played well against Bordeaux last weekend and will start again against Gloucester in the Champions Cup.

So too will Jules Favre, who makes his 100th start for Stade on Saturday. For a point of reference I would like to say Denis Irwin, but only in terms of reliability. Jules obviously hasn’t had the glittering international recognition Denis has had. Irwin epitomised everything you would want from a player in terms of top level consistency. I am trying to say Jules Favre is our Mr. Reliable and one of the most coachable players I’ve dealt with. He ostensibly has none of the attributes for success at the highest level, and yet he has all of the attributes needed. Let me explain.

The reason his game continues to get better and better is explained by the fact he is open to learning, takes correction very well, grabs every opportunity he is given and does all the hard, unglamorous stuff.

In crude terms, he’s a dog, his fitness is exceptional, the fact that he did a lot of Judo as a younger lad means he knows how to fall and bounce up. What I mean by the Irwin comparison is that it is next to impossible to contemplate a team selection without him. He came to the club as an 18 year old from an amateur outfit, RC Morteau, and all the guys who christened him L’Escargot (The Snail) don’t see that the joke is on them. He kicked 17 points off the tee in our 36-6 win in Bordeaux last Saturday. He is Jonathan Danty’s centre replacement one day, his centre partner the next and can play on either wing another day. Above all else, he is extremely coachable. I like players who are receptive to learning and new ideas and ways of improving their all-round game.

A lot of guys are good at nodding the head, hearing but not listening. They forget it when the fat is in the fire come game time. Jules gets it and when it comes to kick-off time, he is about acts more than words.

There was a great example last Saturday against Bordeaux. The situation he finds himself in, even on a good day, would be described as unfavourable at best yet somehow he manages to get back and have an impact. He tackled a Bordeaux player, then tries to poach, gets wiped out. Bordeaux recycle and play to width. Somehow he escapes the ruck and covers the space which our 15 has left just to make sure Bordeaux don’t see the kick space in the back field. These are highly valued moments from a player willing to put it in for his team-mates.

We struck gold with Favre. Others will join us next season and you do the due diligence as best you can. The reports on one such unnamed player, from guys who have worked with him, is very encouraging in that regard. Invariably, you always know someone in a staff somewhere who will put you in touch with the guy you want to ask the real question of. And we are told that this particular player highly recommended from a personal point of view. That’s critical. I’ll sort out the rugby side. A wrong one can poison the atmosphere in the dressing room. The tomato that turns all the other tomatoes in the crate rotten.

Going from a 36-6 away win at our local rivals into a European week is a tricky transition. People might say Graham Rowntree had a tough week with the video review after the defeat at home to Glasgow, but quite often, the opposite dynamic is just as awkward. Fellas here might start behaving all giddy and foolish, and we end up getting bitten on the backside by Gloucester. Unlike the weekly grind of the Top 14, there is no second chance in Europe. You lose now and you’re done.

The positive review clips are examined in the group setting. It’s important to show positives in front of your peers. Poor decisions and errors are usually kept to the individual concerned – unless they are carelessly repeated ad nauseum, which indicates that the player isn’t listening or learning. There is usually a three-strike rule in that regard.

What separates the good from the great is the latter players are able to start from zero again on Monday morning and reset their focus for the game.

There is, and always has been, a massive emphasis on Europe for Munster, so the coaching staff won’t have an issue in that respect in South Africa. Everyone is up that week, but that’s only six weeks of the year. Here it’s grind, grind, grind, and I like that because one week doesn’t necessarily take priority over another. We had to be fully on for Bordeaux Begles and again on Saturday for Gloucester.

The greatest topic of interest in coaching is the top six inches in a player. It’s ultimately all about the display, but how much of it is in the prep? We had ten great days of prep for Bordeaux. This week, I don’t see the same, but it’s been more fractured. Every week is different. We got home at 4.30am last Sunday, so Monday was a wipe-out, we trained Tuesday and Thursday.

Munster flew out Tuesday night and arrived Wednesday early in Durban. The Sharks were in Wales last weekend but presumably were back on the pitch Tuesday. Whatever advantage that bestows on the South African side, both Munster and the Sharks are still looking for a different rhythm entirely to their week given what happened last weekend.

In their analysis of the Warriors defeat, Munster will recognise what happened, but they will also look too at what different behaviours in key moments might have achieved. As good as Glasgow were with the ball, these might have limited the damage at the break to 7-0 or 14-0. But from 28-0, you don’t come back from.

It can’t be all about attitude. If you are banking purely on that, you’re dreaming. There were evidently some strategy and technical issues there too and I’m fairly sure the coaching team have been heavy on that detail this week. You’d like to think there are enough good people in that environment to accentuate the importance of Saturday in Durban for the Munster project.

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