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Gordon D’Arcy: Attitude and discipline key to Munster

Multitalented Toulon relaxed for one vital moment and Conway made them pay

Bank balances become irrelevant across the full 80 minutes of knockout rugby in Thomond Park.

It used to always be this way and looks like a similar era is developing.

Looking back at how individual Toulon players performed, the wonder is how did they lose this Champions Cup quarter-final?

The answer is in the question. Individually, they were superior in most positions and collectively they also seemed the better team on the day, but they left far too many tries behind them.


A clean line break was threatened whenever Semi Radradra, Josua Tuisova, Ma'a Nonu and Mathieu Bastareaud carried ball. It seemed only a matter of time before Toulon would rip Munster apart.

And, eventually, they did. Francois Trinh-Duc arrived to, seemingly, make the decisive difference when, on 65 minutes, he put Bastareaud sprinting over halfway. Chris Ashton finished what seemed, to all available logic, the try that would end Munster's European campaign.

But you cannot buy team spirit. I learned this the hard way. As a 21-year-old I was playing professional rugby for Leinster and enjoying that privilege at every opportunity.

I was front and centre for The Tuesday Club, always reporting for duty, always on time for our evening activities. Arriving into the changing room seconds before the Wednesday morning session with peroxide hair and coffee in hand, the only culture I was contributing to was my own.

Eventually a senior player pulled me aside: “You are playing really well at the weekend Darce but you are not a good person to have around this place.”

I managed to save my career at Leinster but others were moved on when attitude became a valuable currency.

Contrast that with a bloodied and bandaged 21-year-old Sam Arnold yelling at red jerseys to get around his side of the ruck in the 80th minute. Toulon were forced wide by Arnold's footwork and Darren Sweetnam tackled Radradra as Arnold got over the winger to slow Toulon possession. In the corner of the screen you can see him jump to his feet. He almost secured a turnover in the 82nd minute.

Arnold can stand his performance up alongside Bastareaud, Nonu and Malakai Fekitoa.

Mourad Boudjellal has proved that if a club can spend so much money on superstars like Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Giteau, Carl Hayman and Bryan Habana (the list of leaders goes ever on) that opponents cannot cope with their power and accuracy.

Disjointed defensive line

But, on Saturday in Limerick, Andrew Conway’s sensational try separated Munster from Toulon. That score was conceded by a disjointed defensive line with four minutes remaining in a season-defining match. I spotted three individual errors. Andrew saw them in real time as he made a brilliant catch before skipping infield to finish a try that makes him a Munster man for life!

The Munster line looked really sound whenever Nonu or Bastareaud carried. That can't be coached and it most certainly cannot be bought

Arnold can also be added to that list despite early days growing up in England and the Ulster Academy. His desire to become a part of the Munster story cannot be questioned after this clever, passionate display.

Individually the outside centre keeps the collective glued together.

There seemed no way through the Munster midfield due to Arnold's impact on Rory Scannell inside him and three different wingers outside.

On Saturday I saw plenty of the unseen work we always hear about.

Shane Jennings never stopped directing players on the run into defensive twos and threes. Peter O'Mahony is always at it.

The Munster line looked really sound whenever Nonu or Bastareaud carried. That can’t be coached and it most certainly cannot be bought. That was Sam Arnold announcing his presence because playing for Munster clearly means more to him than it does for his direct opponents playing for Toulon.

Bank balances mean nothing in these games.

Now, that said, whatever the IRFU are paying Conor Murray it seems like a bargain. We have never seen his like before. Not just in Irish rugby but his ground-breaking influence on the Lions tour of New Zealand last summer. Or a few weeks back when he had the smarts, knowing Johnny Sexton was off the field, to draw Richard Wigglesworth before sending Jacob Stockdale down the short side for a fairly important try at Twickenham.

But it's about the Munster collective. Johann van Graan is, quite obviously, an astute appointment. He's not filling Rassie Erasmus' shoes, instead they have a really good coach who is getting the best out of players like Ian Keatley.

To go to the next level (winning trophies) Munster need another astute signing; the next Dougie Howlett or Jim Williams. Tadhg Beirne's arrival this summer should help. Jaco Taute and Tyler Bleyendaal have been denied this opportunity by injury but that's the area – 10, 12 – they need to strengthen. Maybe Bill Johnston or JJ Hanrahan will come through to fill that gap. If not Leinster have three established outhalves on their roster or the IRFU might allow an established foreigner.

What also makes van Graan such a good coach, to my mind, is the simplicity of how Munster set up. They centre their attack around obvious strengths: Conway, Zebo, Murray, CJ Stander and O’Mahony.

System errors

World-class players win games. Toulon and their huge salaries can destroy teams but drag them into a finely balanced contest, like Saturday, and structures mixed with will-to-win are what counts.

Take Conway’s try. Toulon were in total control, leading by six points, when Fekitoa gobbled up Keatley’s wild pass in the 22. Murray clearly hurt himself tackling Fekitoa as Springbok and Puma backrows carried Toulon to higher ground as their All Black scrumhalf fed Trinh-Duc who seemingly kicked them to safety.

In that instant the game seemed to be over. There were two very different teams on the pitch. One had 15 individuals all seeking responsibility, the other had about 10 players who thought somebody else would take care of it.

Trinh-Duc actually found touch, in front of the star studded Toulon bench, but Conway planted his feet and brilliantly kept the ball in play.

So many system errors follow. Radradra ran up the 15-metre channel to deny a quick throw to Alex Wootton but this proved a terrible decision as Chris Ashton is a good 20 metres behind him. That tells me there was zero communication between wing and fullback. It's a poor individual mistake but the collective laziness behind them is inexcusable and cost Toulon the victory.

Sensing the problem, Trinh-Duc sprinted past Ashton just as Conway, who could barely believe his eyes, took off.

The French outhalf and English fullback were easily beaten, with Trinh-Duc spreading his arms in frustration, wondering where the cover had disappeared to.

Compare this disorganised kick chase to Ireland conceding the Teddy Thomas try in Paris. Murray shot up to make a tackle and while those in behind were aligned they left a small gap for the speed of Thomas to punish them. The difference here is those in behind were walking and nobody was talking. Trinh-Duc ran past them all.

You cannot buy attitude. A proper kick chase was needed to close out the contest but after the turnover and Duane Vermeulen carry, Toulon collectively relaxed.

That’s the difference, in one snap shot, of budget-tightening Irish provinces versus millionaire-owned French clubs; an advantage we will always need if two teams are to reach the Champions Cup semi-finals.

Quality players need to be coached as much as hard-working professionals. That was the difference. Discipline was the difference.

Munster won the micro-battles in the game so they won the game. By playing to the last moment, they earned their trip to Bordeaux to face Racing 92.

People had told me van Graan’s a good coach. I believe he has so much more to offer, he hasn’t just picked up where Rassie left off, he has outshone his predecessor in a very short period of time and has gained the players full attention.

The decision to bring everyone to South Africa for the two-match Pro 14 tour is very smart. Keep the group together.

Your culture is the manifestation of what you do off the pitch as well as on it.

Winning a trophy this season still seems like a stretch too far for Munster but they have an age profile, expert coaching and most of all the attitude to do something special in the not too distant future.