Munster’s players and the coaching team led by Graham Rowntree deserve a bit of time to luxuriate in celebrations after their brilliant United Rugby Championship final win over the Stormers, but when they come to reflect on the story of that triumph, the focus will be on the province’s remarkable final five-match run to the title on the road.
It started with a two-game tour to South Africa where they beat the Stormers and drew with the Sharks, which earned them a trip to Glasgow against the in-form Warriors. Most people had them as second favourites against the Scottish side, who had thumped them five weeks previously at Thomond Park, but Munster eked out a hard-fought victory.
That resilience and character were once again in evidence in the end game of their semi-final win over Leinster as they engineered a platform for Jack Crowley’s nerveless drop goal. And then in the final, they put behind them the rather paltry return for their first-half dominance and the loss of their captain Peter O’Mahony.
A late try from man-of-the-match John Hodnett demonstrated a resolve that was part of the DNA of Munster’s most successful teams in the past and one that came to the fore when it mattered in the current group; a solid foundation on which to build for the future.
O’Gara’s special library
Midi Olympique’s wide-ranging homily to Ronan O’Gara highlighted the progression of the Corkman from an outstanding outhalf with Munster, Ireland the Lions to a top-class coach and dispelled some myths or criticisms around the La Rochelle coach, who has not only masterminded the club’s back-to-back Heineken Champions Cup triumphs but in his four-years, two as head honcho, revolutionised the fortunes of Les Maritimes.
Marc Duzan spoke to Lauren Labit, France’s current attack coach, under whom O’Gara worked first as kicking coach and then as defence coach at Racing 92. Labit said: “Very quickly [O’Gara] told us [Labit and fellow coach Laurent Travers] that he did not want to be confined to kicking. It was something that annoyed him a lot, by the way.
“So, he was given the defence and he excelled in that position; in the creation of systems, he was very gifted, and, in a few months, he made Racing one of the best defences in France and Europe”. The appointment raised a few eyebrows for those who argued that O’Gara wasn’t the most robust tackler in his playing days.
Labit continued: “This debate was truly ridiculous. Ronan, although he was never a big tackler, was always very interested in the defensive system. You don’t have to have been the greatest ball handler in history either to know how to be creative in terms of attacking patterns.”
Perhaps the best insight showing there is nothing accidental in O’Gara’s progression from player to coach can be gleaned from his own words. Duzan wrote of a previous conversation with the Irishman in which O’Gara said: “At the start of my career I didn’t listen to anything. I thought I was superb and perfect.
“Then I started listening, analysing what my coaches - Declan Kidney, Eddie O’Sullivan or Warren Gatland - were doing. I then put everything down on paper. Today, I have several books specially dedicated to the defensive system and to the game in general. And I enrich them every day.” A blueprint for success.
By the numbers
12: The number of years between silverware for Munster following their brilliant United Rugby Championship final victory over the Stormers in Cape Town at the weekend.
Word of Mouth
“I really thought the referee was superb and put in an excellent performance, but the field was a nightmare for us. I take it on me, because maybe we should have changed our game model. Maybe we should have slowed down the line-speed, kicked ‘contestables’, not try too many counterattacks.” Stormers coach John Dobson.
Toulon or not Toulon? That is the question for Kolbe
South Africa’s World Cup-winning wing-cum-fullback Cheslin Kolbe may head to Japan rather than see out the final year of his contract with Toulon, where he has been since that club paid a reported €1 million to prise him away from Toulouse.
One of world rugby’s most gifted attacking players, the 29-year-old would be coveted by most clubs globally and there appears to be a couple of unnamed clubs in Japan who might be happy to meet his financial demands. The suggestion in French rugby circles is that he will move to Japan after the Rugby World Cup.
Kolbe said to Var-Matin: “I hope to still be here [Toulon]. We will see what will happen. I am under contract until 2024 and I hope to be able to go to the end of that… The decision is not up to just me.”
Toulon president Bernard Lemaître told Sud Radio last month: “We are in discussions with Cheslin Kolbe. His departure would free up the payroll, yes, but we will not sell off Cheslin Kolbe. His first desire is to stay with us, even if there are huge requests from Japan.” The 23-year-old All Blacks wing Leicester Fainga’anuku will join Toulon from the Crusaders at the conclusion of his contract with the latter.