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Gordon D’Arcy: Beirne’s arrival can help take Munster to another level

A flowing philosophy over a rigid system looks like Munster’s new foundation stone

Paddy Johns has no knee cartilage but the 50-year-old remains an iron man. Literally. The former Ireland captain does triathlons in his spare time away from his dental practice.

Paddy and I pedalled in tandem for a few miles on a recent cycle for Paul Wallace’s cancer research charity. We briefly overlapped in the green jersey, my debut against Romania in 1999, and on this day the conversation circled around training techniques.

“I feel the need to take it easy, my calves could tear.”

“Nah,” Paddy replied, “win the battle in your head Gordon and the body will follow.”

No smile. Deadly serious as he devoured road. That's just the way Paddy Johns is made. You either have it or you don't. Most people don't. To me, Tadhg Beirne has the same mindset and Munster could reap the rewards.

During my career I came across two forms of coaching: the philosophy and the system. The former evolves depending on the shape of a squad, the latter adheres to a proven (rigid) structure that leans heavily on specific personnel.

There is Pep Guardiola and there is Jose Mourinho. There is Joe Schmidt and there is Eddie Jones.

The philosophical approach tailors coaching to each scenario while the systematic coach has a way of doing things that eventually gets figured out by shrewd opponents.

Michael Cheika has a way of doing things, so does Matt O'Connor. It's highly effective until it isn't. See England unravelling in year three under Jones.

Guy Noves had a philosophy at Toulouse. Deccie Kidney was the same at Munster and it wasn't 10-man rugby. Of course the game begins in the tight five – something Ulster eventually need to grasp – but until we took measures in 2009, Munster used to give us a beating any way we needed it.

Stuart Lancaster and Schmidt are modern rugby coaches who constantly strive to break new ground. Their philosophy is the north star, it's how to play the game, but they adapt on a day-to-day basis to handle unfolding challenges.

The copy and paste Canterbury method failed because, in my opinion, it was not properly adapted to suit the players

Sustainable change takes time. Rob Penney offered Munster the Canterbury way of playing in 2012. Perhaps his arrival happened too soon because the Crusaders' style remains superior to every other team in the Southern Hemisphere (highly skilled players help and, presumably, so does Ronan O'Gara going the other way).

Munster, during the Penney seasons, seemed to fall between two stools: the wide-wide attack and ingrained Munster way of beating up opponents. Penney persisted with a plan that was met with resistance from fans and, one can only imagine, not every player was an immediate convert.

The feeling was ‘Donnacha Ryan shouldn’t be on the wing waiting for a pass,’ despite the fact Donnacha rarely made a handling error. Perhaps the problem was Munster lacked the players to get him the ball when the opportunity arose?

The copy and paste Canterbury method failed because, in my opinion, it was not properly adapted to suit the players. Munster don't have the requisite squad depth yet, but they do possess players to tactically alter how they play. Beirne didn't make much of a playing impact when our paths crossed at Leinster – he was injured a lot – but as a person it was obvious how important he could be to any team environment.

Munster are gaining the benefit of both a quality player and down-to-earth decent guy. Now, one man cannot fully influence a team’s philosophy but if the fundamentals are in place – that’s down to coaches – Beirne can play an enormous role in Munster’s game plan yielding results beyond what we’ve seen these past two seasons.

The speed of our game continues to increase so the ability to carry players that do not know what to do in possession is a punitive cost

I’m not saying they are going to win the Champions Cup or even make the final. It’s too early for predictions and previous champions will also make improved strides towards the summit.

Looking at Munster these past five years, they have struggled in a few positions, primarily outhalf. Let's park misgivings about how Joey Carbery's move to Limerick materialised, because he's already showing signs of providing a solution to an unsolved problem since ROG retired. This goes to the core of what drives Munster's financial engine; satellite supporters need European success before they chow down on season tickets.

Carbery’s true value cannot be accurately judged until season’s end but Beirne’s influence can go beyond the business side of a rugby organisation. How he ended up in Munster is already documented – unfortunate and persistence injuries denied him a Leinster contract but karma found him when injuries to established Welsh men at Scarlets provided an opportunity.

He took it, soaring onto the shortlist for European player of the year, but Tadhg's development has also been assisted by a changing global trend that values ball-playing secondrows with Maro Itoje, James Ryan, Iain Henderson, Leone Nakarawa and Scott Barrett blazing a trail.

The speed of our game continues to increase, with the ball in play for longer, so the ability to carry players that do not know what to do in possession is a punitive cost. Tadhg Furlong, see Twickenham, is more comfortable distributing than several outside backs (in 2005 I got stitched up like a kipper against the All Blacks – just one of many moments that still brings silent shame as each fingertip pass and light-footed movement was completed by front rowers).

I remember my ‘wow’ moment with James Ryan. Playing a schools game for St Michael’s you could see his brain ticking over as he entered contact – ‘I’m going to allow myself to be tackled as the real opportunity is the offload.’

What defines Munster in 2018/19 remains to be seen but they have changed under Johann van Graan with Beirne and Carbery accelerating the process. We are seeing an offloading game. Most professional players possess the skill so it comes down to confidence. Beirne tends to make the correct decision, be it passing before or during contact.

Add in his work-rate, an ancient Munster foundation stone, and he should prove a galvanising force to his new team-mates.

Beirne's incredible engine gets him into situations where an extra set of hands become a vital, if unsung link. On turnover or from a kick, teams tend to defend near the ruck and leave space out wide. The attack might have two in the wide channel but rarely the right person to get the ball out there. Beirne can be the link, that Anthony Foley habit of being in the right place and Kieran Reid ability to deliver the pass. High praise, but he has form.

That should lead to a Tadhg Beirne ripple effect.

Munster have shown us nothing of note so far this season – victories coming over poor opposition with defeats down to basic defensive lapses – but Leinster in the Aviva and Exeter at Sandy Park will give a good insight to how close they are to the Munster that Peter O’Mahony wants to cultivate.

Not long ago I’d an enjoyable coffee in Stuart Lancaster’s company.

What stood out for me was his self-awareness (which inspired me to look at myself); the reflection he took from being England coach and how he channelled previous failures to help deliver what is currently unfolding at Leinster.

Stuart maintains his coaching philosophy but changed how he communicates it to fit Leinster. Penney coached a way that was never going to suit the previous group of Munster players but he wasn’t able to amend his ways and so was doomed to fail. Coaches, even more than players, must be adaptable, with Lancaster setting a strong precedent, and I doubt many coaches would have his resolve but Johann van Graan seems of a similar ilk.

Adaptive coach

That appears to be why Jones’s England and Cheika’s Wallabies are struggling; they have not changed with their environment. What worked in the past is malfunctioning and they are not interacting with players to solve new problems.

Rigidity over a flowing philosophy.

In Munster we are seeing an adaptive coach in JVG who offers the players freedom within a structure. They have a young outhalf learning to control the game behind a new, and dynamically positive influence in the pack.

By performing high quality acts consistently in a game Beirne will strengthen the bond between players and help to grow internal belief.

This is slightly different to Paul O’Connell’s influence but it can prove just as valuable. O’Mahony has the Munster spirit burning in his eyes but Beirne can get people aligned to the team’s essential needs simply by keeping the ball alive at opportune times.

This philosophical shift in Munster should, in theory, allow Carbery enough time to conjure space for Keith Earls et al.

Carbery’s challenge will be to understand the tempo of games but Beirne incisions might give him time to place the perfect kick. The best fly-halves read all the information all the time to enact necessary change. ROG was the master of this on torrential Thomond nights against ferocious French or English opponents.

The arrival of Beirne and Carbery might not be enough to deliver silverware today but they should help O’Mahony and others immeasurably.

Leinster followed by Exeter will provide intriguing examinations, but flowing philosophy over a rigid system looks like Munster’s new foundation stone.

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