Ian Keatley: Finding solutions instead of talking about problems

Playing what you see. We hear the phrase time and time again from coaches eager to empower their players with in-game decision-making responsibility and players keen to emphasise they are not mere automatons whose every move is controlled by puppetmasters up in the stands.

Thriving on confidence: Ian Keatley is relishing the trust shown in him as a playmaker at pitch level. Picture: Aaron Greene/Sportsfile

Champions Cup Pool 4

Racing 92 v Munster

Sunday: U Arena, 3.15pm

Referee: Matthew Carley

TV: Sky Sports

Bet: Racing 4/7 Munster 6/4

Draw 17/1

Yet what is it that the players actually see when presented with potentially game-changing opportunities that require those decisions to made in fractions of a second?

You can be sure the view is very different to that seen from the coaching box, never mind the cheap seats.

Fly-halves have to make more of those calls than anybody else on a rugby field and Ian Keatley is making some very good ones at the moment, continuing his exemplary good form from the start of the season into the new year, just when it is needed most.

Keatley is relishing the trust shown in him as a playmaker at pitch level, first by former director of rugby Rassie Eramsus and latterly by his successor, new head coach Johann van Graan.

“I think what Johann and Rassie have brought in is that we as players take a lot more leadership on the pitch and make decisions on the pitch,” Keatley said.

“When you look from up above you can see the space but it’s completely different when you’re actually in the game. It’s like a car racing (video) game you know and people change the view to where they can just see the front of the car and the corner coming up.

“No-one ever picks the view when you are in the car because it’s a lot harder.

“And us as players we see that so that’s why Johann has given us a lot more responsibility on the pitch to make those calls because we can feel what’s happening on the pitch and it might look different from a different view.”

Munster break new ground in Paris on Sunday when Racing 92 welcome them to their U Arena on the western edge of the city-centre for a first Champions Cup match at their new, state of the art stadium.

It is a game that could, with an away victory, deliver qualification for the quarter-finals, as Munster look to close out Pool 4 with a week to spare and it is a challenge that will require more of the same from Keatley.

The 30-year-old showed some great rugby instincts in the home win over Connacht last Saturday in addition to his overall game management as he made snap decisions to put players into space, a grubber kick into the right corner for Andrew Conway’s try and then an offload to the same player that resulted in a score on the opposite side for Keith Earls as Munster romped to a bonus-point victory.

“We are trying to get a nice balance to our game,” Keatley said.

“We are not saying we were making wrong decisions, it is all based on the right decision-making, if it is the right thing to do and doesn’t come off, we are still saying it is the right thing to do, so we keep going with it.

“If we try something magical and it is not the right thing to do, then we start questioning our decision-making there, but if it is the right thing to do and it doesn’t come off, we back those decisions.”

Keatley gives credit to a synchronised backline that last weekend was an all-Irish international unit from 9 to 15.

“It’s getting in sync and getting on the same page. There’s great communication coming in from the outside. We talked about giving solutions rather than talking about problems.

"What we used to do is say ‘there’s a guy shooting on ya’ rather than we’ve got a call to put the ball through so when I’m passing the ball if I hear the buzz word for putting the ball through, I’ll go with it if that makes sense.

“If there is a guy shooting at you, you’re looking for him rather kicking. It’s so much easier and it makes my job a lot easier.”

The fly-half’s confidence is understandably as high as modesty permits him to admit. Asked to score it on a scale of one to 10 he asks earnestly if 10 equals “arrogance”. It does not but he still hedges.

“I would say I am around eight or nine, very happy, but I know I can keep improving. There are still things I need to work on, a lot of things I need to work on, so I am going to keep doing that.”

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