Casey Laulala proving his worth to Munster
Laulala admits to lacking confidence in first year with the province
Casey Laulala is in the second year of a two-year deal with Munster but would like to extend his stay. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
For much of last season Casey Laulala did not really look like the class act Munster had acquired. In the previous three seasons Laulala had been Cardiff’s go-to man, his footwork and offloading being a constant reference point for their attacking game.
But with Munster, it seemed as if Laulala was constantly trying to prove himself.
Capped twice by the All Blacks in a vintage era for New Zealand midfield play, what with Tana Umaga and then Conrad Smith taking ownership of the number 13 jersey, nonetheless Laulala had been a standout performer with the Crusaders in his six seasons there. He scored 20 tries in 61 appearances, including the match-winning try in the 2006 Super 14 final.
Yet he struggled to transfer this pedigree in a Munster jersey, often straining every sinew to make breaks and/or offloads which didn’t go to hand. Until, that was, Munster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final win away to Harlequins and semi-final defeat to Clermont.
Then we saw that Laulala is indeed a big player for the big games; his elusiveness sparking Munster into life against Harlequins in the build-up to Ronan O’Gara opening their account, while his thunderous tackle to scythe down Mike Brown towards the end of the first-half was one of the game’s defining moments.
Laulala looks back now and concedes frankly: “I was lacking a bit of confidence as well. You can play this game for a long time but when you got to a new environment, it’s almost like you have to start again and get used to the guys.
‘Putting the head down’
“Also, with us, there were a lot of new guys, new faces, including the coaches, that itself was hard enough. Then a few injuries at the start kind of knocked my confidence. From then on it was a case of putting the head down and working hard.”
“So the confidence was really down in the first half of the season. We gradually shook things down and got the balance of our game, you know, the old Munster and the new stuff we were trying to do, and it kind of came together in the knockout rounds.
“I got my own confidence up and we obviously had a lot of faith in what we were doing and in each other. We’ve got a really talented team so it was just a matter of finding each other, and we really put it in those knockout games.”
With that end to last season behind him, Laulala feels far more at ease in his Munster surrounds, and of what is expected of him on the pitch, when to have a go, and when to pass. A good pre-season and injury free start to the campaign helped.
“For myself that’s a real bonus, having a good pre-season and a year of doing what we’ve been trying to do. We went into this season running, not having to learn new things and I’d like to think, confident from what we achieved toward the end of last season.”