Stephen Larkham coming into Munster ‘to make a change’
New Australian coach says he is looking forward to the challenge of new environment
Munster senior coach Stephen Larkham at training on Monday. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
After reaching the semi-finals of both the Heineken Cup and Guinness Pro14 in each of the last two seasons, their newly acquired senior coach Stephen Larkham makes no secret of his intent in helping Munster break through that apparent glass ceiling.
“I’m coming in here to make a change, there’s no doubt about that, the club is built around success and we’re chasing that. We know the results from last year aren’t good enough, semi-finals in both competitions.
“Most people say that’s pretty good but it’s not good enough for us so we’re chasing the next level and I want to be part of that.”
Munster’s cache abroad went some way toward steering him here after an entire playing career in Australia and eight years coaching there before a parting of the way with Michael Cheika at the end of last season.
Noting how Munster averaged seven tries and 26 points per game in both competitions in Cork last season, Larkham added: “There are things here in place that are working really well, so it’s not about changing those, it’s about maintaining those.
Detail was lacking
“But there is a bit of detail lacking in those couple of games from last year and in my interview process I identified a couple of areas where I felt the detail was lacking, in particular the use of skills with our forwards.
“So I really do want to make sure that from one to 15 across the park, or from one to 23, everybody who takes the field has the ability to make decisions and takes the right decisions.”
He acknowledged this will “take a little bit of time”, but that the base and talent is there.
The 1999 World Cup winning outhalf was sheer class in his playing days, and while breaking the mould of goal-kicking, drop goal landing ‘10s’, he was very definitely cut from the Australian mould of running and passing outhalves.
Famously, he only scored two drop goals in 102 tests for Australia, but picked an opportune moment to land his first with that jaw-dropping 50 metre effort on the run in the 1999 quarter-finals in Paris to wrest the William Webb Ellis trophy from the Springboks.
Larkham’s one playing appearance at Thomond Park was in the group stages of that tournament, when he scored one of Australia’s eight tries in a 55-19 win over the USA which was also the only game in which the Wallabies conceded a try in the entire World Cup.
“They put 13 in the maul so I probably could have gone in there. I remember the crowd. It obviously wasn’t a Munster game but I remember the crowd being very passionate and vocal. I have been here once before it was either before or after we came here as well. But I didn’t play that game I don’t think.
“But that was part of the allure of coming over here as well, the Red Army and the support that the team gets. They are famous around the world. You see people in Canberra, which is a relatively small town around the world, walking down the street in Munster jerseys.”
Larkham only landed two conversions at Test level, while scoring a remarkable 25 tries and with sometime kicking coach Richie Murphy on Irish duty, ex-English outhalf Charlie Hodgson has been working with Munster’s kickers this week.
It will be particularly intriguing to see the benefits in Joey Carbery’s game from working with the former Wallabies outhalf, and having come across Carbery in Ireland’s 2018 three Test tour, Larkham admitted: “Yea, plenty of potential, super-skilful, reads the game really well, attacks the line...he’s probably only one of the few five-eights in world rugby who attacks the line. Beauden Barrett is another one.
“He actually came in the other day – as you know, he’s out with a minor injury – and he said ‘g’day’ to everyone, so that was good. I had a bit of a chat with him then and I’m really looking forward to working with him, but there are plenty of other good five-eights here at the moment.
“JJ (Hanrahan) is a real talent, so is Tyler (Bleyendaal), and Ben Healy from the under-20s programme as well. So working with those three at the moment and it’s been really enjoyable. But yeah no doubt about it, I’d love to work with Joey as soon as possible.”
As is invariably the case with any visiting Australian to these shores, no conversation would be complete without mention of the weather, not least as Larkham has been rather taken aback by the sunshine of the last few days.
“The challenge for me is probably with my family and the weather. That is probably going to be a bit of an issue,” said Larkham whose wife and two daughters, Jaimee and Trahna, arrive in early December.
“I’ve been here just a couple of hours over a week and the last three days have been pretty good. In the house we’re renting at the moment, we’ve got some nice doors opening out onto a patio. I had them open yesterday, which I didn’t think would happen in Ireland. Normally, I come to Ireland in November, what we call the spring tour. You probably get eight hours of daylight a day then, so the last three days have been amazing but I’ve been assured by everyone that that’s the last sun I’m going to see all year.”