Mike Prendergast optimistic sluggish Munster can adapt to more ambitious game plan

New attack coach embraces return from Parisian life after three seasons with Racing 92

“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Mike Prendergast reminded us when discussing Munster’s sluggish start to the season. But their new backs and attack coach hasn’t wavered in his belief that his players are capable of adapting to a more ambitious game plan.

“You look at the profile of the players we have and I think a lot of teams are playing a very similar system or framework,” said Prendergast at the squad’s HPC base in the UL yesterday.

“Within that, it’s about how good your skills are, how good your decision-making is and we’re trying to encourage those things every week.

“Some parts of what we’re doing are quite new to the boys and that takes time. It’s different habits as well and that takes time to change. We’re first to admit it. We know we’re not as good as we need to be and we’ve got to learn quicker.

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“There is a path there that we’re looking at and we’re at the start of that at the moment. But in terms of profiles, absolutely, and it would have been something that I had looked at. You don’t just go into a club and decide to put in a type of framework and system and expect it just to click straight away.

“We train at a high tempo, with a lot of touches on the ball and as a coaching staff and as a group, we know where we want to go and this is the avenue that we’re going to go down, and we’re going to improve every day and every week by doing it.”

The return this week of Gavin Coombes, who looks set to feature in Friday’s derby against Connacht, should add some ballast to their carrying. Jean Kleyn will also return to full training this week after completing his return-to-play protocols but Simon Zebo has been ruled out of Friday’s game with a calf injury, as has Liam Coombes (hamstring).

Alex Kendellen has completed his latest return-to-play protocols but will meet with an independent concussion consultant and be afforded more time to recover, thus joining RG Snyman (knee), Jack Daly (knee), Paddy Kelly (head), Keith Earls (thigh) and Andrew Conway (knee) on their absentee list.

After nine seasons in the Top 14, the last three with Racing 92, Prendergast admits life back in his native Limerick is very different.

“In Paris you can go for a coffee or go for lunch, and you don’t meet anyone, and they don’t ask you any questions. Here, it’s a lot different. When your performances overall haven’t been where people maybe expect them to be, yeah, there’s a lot more to it. There’s more conversations around it, but I knew that coming home. It’s a great club and it’s a great rugby city so you’ve got to embrace that as well, with the good times and with the tough times.”

While it’s early days to be drawing comparisons between the Top 14 and the URC, Prendergast cited the “sheer physicality size-wise in the Top 14. There is that mass size in terms of collisions. It might be a bit different here, I’m not saying it’s less in terms of the collision but in terms of powerful impacts, you can see that.

“And in terms of the actual game, the Top 14 over the last few years has probably evolved into a quicker game and we’re trying to get to that rhythm and you could see in the second half against Zebre last week it was very stop-starty and that’s partly our fault, we created that a small bit as well.

“We’re looking for a quicker tempo game that I think will suit us, and that would be the two differences at the moment I would see between the two leagues. But it’s very early days to judge.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times