A new contract, a new role as Munster captain, and Diarmuid Barron says it was easy – the contract not the captaincy. Both acts were his club telling him that he is a valued player.
Following the monolithic decade of Peter O’Mahony, even if the captaincy role is not permanent, it is no less than a ringing endorsement by Munster coach Graham Rowntree. In a reciprocating mood, this week Barron wanted nothing other than to stay red.
“It was a very easy decision, yep,” he says. “The second it [contract] was on the table, it was very straightforward. It was all about Munster. I don’t want to be anywhere else bar Munster.”
The 25-year-old hooker from Cashel knows the captaincy could be like the shirt. He is a keeper of it as long as the coach wants him to be. That he is part of the first-wave choice post O’Mahony is, however, almost a canonisation.
Following O’Mahony’s reputation as a fierce leader on the pitch, with natural authority as well as being one of the most recognisable Munster figureheads, is not without its challenges.
As Barron sees it, Rowntree is not a character to be pressurised into making a hasty decision over his captain’s choice. Nor is Barron the type of player to bang on the coach’s door to tell him to look no further.
“No, I think it’s an actions thing,” says Barron. “He [Rowntree] understands well what a captain in Munster should look like and how they should behave and I don’t think knocking on the door would make any difference.
“I know he comes from a club [Leicester] that has very similar values to what Munster has and I’m sure he will pick the right person regardless. When he says he’s not going to be rushed, he’s not going to be rushed.”
With Bayonne arriving to Thomond Park on Saturday for the first round of the European Champions Cup, players such as Barron on the periphery of Ireland see it as opportunity as the level of play goes up and national coaches take notice.
He has been in and around the Irish squad in previous years and was selected in the Ireland A panel that joined the senior Ireland team to face an All Blacks XV in November of last year, where he featured as a replacement. He has also played with Emerging Ireland three times.
Much of the direct communication with the Irish staff has been through forwards coach Paul O’Connell rather than Andy Farrell and, while Barron is encouraged, it isn’t difficult to see the lay of the land for Irish hookers at international level – Dan Sheehan, Rónan Kelleher, Tom Stewart and Rob Herring for starters.
“The continual chat would be more so with Paul,” he says. “Look, just getting more consistency in performance and keep getting better at the things I’m good at but also getting better at the things that need work. There’re some outstanding hookers in Ireland at the moment and there is no point pretending there’s not.
“I’ve got to be right at the top of my game in order to get in there so I’m under no illusion there. All I can focus on is getting better and playing well at Munster and I’m very happy playing for Munster. Obviously down the line, the goal is to play for Ireland and I’ve no problem saying that. Look, there’s parts of my game I know I need to shore up and there’s other parts I know I’m good at. I just have to string a few more consistent performances together and keep getting better.”
That seems to be the attitude of the Munster team. Recent games against Leinster and Glasgow have seen some strong aspects to their game but also areas that require work. Injury to forwards is not helping but, as Barron believes, they must be collectively better against Bayonne than they have been in recent weeks.
“It’s been decent,” he says. “We’re not where we want to be yet. I think we’re a good team. But I think we’ve a bit to go in terms of growing our game to become an even better team. We talked about the maul defence last weekend. I think for large parts of that game against Glasgow we were well on top. Our maul defence let us down.
“It showed on the scoreboard, but I do think we’ve a way to go in terms of improving. We are constantly trying to do that and the coaches we have are driving that as well. It’s a great place to be when you know you have to improve and you can action it each week, go out and do better.”
No better place to be better than Thomond Park.