Stephen Larkham: Munster 'hurting’ after Leinster defeat

‘We’ve had a really good review, a real honest look at ourselves,’ says Munster senior coach

Nothing seems to prompt quite the same gnashing of teeth and analysis of the gap between Munster and Leinster, particularly among their retinue of former players turned pundits and supporter base, than another defeat by their domineering neighbours.

Admittedly, both Peter Stringer – who has been a more critical voice in recent times this season – and Jerry Flannery commended the home side for their approach toward last Saturday’s latest encounter but others, such as Liam Toland, were more damning in maintaining there was still no evidence of Munster broadening their attacking game a la Connacht.

To a degree, Stephen Larkham can understand why Munster are constantly judged by Leinster’s high standards, while maintaining that they are just as disappointed by another defeat, if not as inclined to express their feelings in public.

“Leinster are top of the table at the moment so you’re always challenging yourself against those teams, and you want to mark yourself against those teams – no different from other competitions around the world.


“The Leinster-Munster rivalry has always been there, so that’s kind of a separate one, but when Leinster are on top and we’re not on top, yeah, we’re extremely disappointed in the game. We’ve had a really good review, a real honest look at ourselves.

“And yeah, we’re hurting. There’s no doubt we’re hurting. But we’ve got to move on. That’s the game that we’re in. It’s a high-performance, pressure environment where you get judged on a performance, but you’ve got to let that go and you’ve got to move on straight away because if you let it linger, then it’s going to affect your next performance. So yeah, apologies if you feel that we’re not expressing it enough, but I guarantee you that internally, that hurt us.”

Analysing last weekend’s game in more detail, Larkham said that “lots of little things” contributed to them coming up short, particularly their discipline early, and while Leinster scored some nice tries, some of Munster’s defensive detail was “a little bit off”.

“Leinster were good. I thought they played an exceptional game, kept the pressure on really well, kicked for territory really well, and incidentally just in this forum, they kicked more than us in the game,” he noted wryly.

“But they kicked really well and I think the breakdown pressure that they applied was tremendous throughout the whole game. So from our perspective we just want to continue to work on our game. We’re not changing anything, we just want to make sure that we’re a little more consistent throughout the 80 minutes.”

The impact of Munster’s young bench was also positive, with Joey Carbery switching to fullback when Ben Healy was introduced, but starting at 15 was not really an option.

“Not at this stage, no,” said Larkham, “but he’s certainly giving us that coverage [at 15] throughout the 80 minutes.”

Munster face an Exeter side in the Heineken Champions Cup Last 16 first leg at Sandy Park on Saturday (kick-off 5.30) who have been a little off colour this season.

However, last Saturday’s 42-22 win over Bath was their fifth in seven matches to move into the Premiership top four and Larkham believes that in the last month Exeter have rediscovered the double-winning form of two seasons ago.

“I think they’ve got threats, they’ve got world-class players in that backline. They’ve got the ability to hold the ball. They’re actually very good at utilising the backs in general, not just the outside backs.

“They’ve got a very set way that they play in attack, generally with their forward carrying and then they try and get their backs involved in that next phase off the sideline. They’re getting a lot of touches in the game and they’re a very dangerous outfit.”

Larkham also believes the Munster players who travelled to South Africa will continue to reap the benefits of training at altitude, and they’ve have been re-energised by the return of their Six Nations players.

“There is good energy in the team, the training has been through the roof. The last week leading into Leinster, we probably had our best session for a number of months in terms of intensity and we’ve backed it up this week.”

“The boys came back for the first time last week, new combinations in training, new combinations on the field and we get an opportunity this week to hopefully back up some of those combinations. It’s fresh, it’s enjoyable in the camp and we don’t feel like it’s a long campaign at the moment.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times