Best clubs are never in transition; continuity's the name of the game
Imanol Harinordoquy, captain and talisman is back (on the bench) for Biarritz; Dylan Hartley is back for Northhampton Saints; Saracens have their all-conquering All Black slayers back in harness and Clermont have any amount of brilliance and brutality waiting in France. What a weekend awaits us and I have a sneaking suspicion the big two will struggle, with Connacht and Ulster best placed to beat the bookies.
As we transition back to our provinces for the must-win fortnight of European middle matches which shape entire seasons I wonder what exactly transition entails; it’s a word Declan Kidney leans on as he “rebuilds”. To it I add: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
Behind closed doors this is not the language of our four provinces. Real consistent winners such as the Kilkenny hurlers and Heineken Cup champions push this concept much further: if it’s not broken, you’re not looking hard enough!
Both Munster and Leinster will have to look very hard this week to keep up their unbelievable standards. But of course this is not a weekly event as coaches will be planning months/years in advance. If not they will be stuck in transition. Between them they have now five European cups and are hungry for many more. Does this attitude exist at our international level?
Why claim transition? For instance, Rob Penney inherited a Munster team genuinely shorn of class players and is forced to negotiate the choppy waters of the coming fortnight while rebuilding.
I wonder if due to his “blow-in” status will the rugby public be far less forgiving of him than of Irish legends? Thankfully the cut-throat European Cup tends to be far less tolerant of failure; educated supporters at “club” level demand success through ticket sales – and transition is simply not a valid excuse. Leinster can fill the Aviva; can Ireland?
Never in transition
With transition in mind, Clermont Auvergne (and Toulouse) have been at the forefront of European rugby and continually come back each season. Is it money or is it planning? Why are they never in transition as they refresh with new (like-minded) players each season?
Leinster, with less financial resources are replicating this. Tony McGahan, on departing, left a Munster team in need of a total rebuild. Eric Elwood (with Nigel Carolan) has been brilliant in unearthing real talent on limited resources. Ulster’s much greater resources have sourced players at home and abroad.
Why are teams allowed into a transitional period? All the best guidelines base successful continuity on a spectrum of ages spread through the squad. The transition excuse is an admittance of poor planning, limited risk taking and lack of confidence in players.
Tomorrow Munster take on Saracens, with the home team rebuilding quickly under huge pressure, with the expectant home crowd demanding the best. England beating New Zealand should give Irish rugby huge hope because, bulk aside, Irish players are still more talented than English. Owen Farrell, England and Saracens outhalf/centre, has many virtues to admire but none are beyond our capabilities. England, like Saracens, play a very regimented game.