Stephen Larkham stresses the positive as Munster rebuild for Toulouse test

Senior coach says side will work on fundamentals ahead of European clash at Thomond Park

Munster senior coach Stephen Larkham during a training session at UL on Tuesday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Munster senior coach Stephen Larkham during a training session at UL on Tuesday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Some defeats are easier to push aside than others and for Munster none linger for longer, or more painfully, than the losses to Leinster.

Despite being afforded a rest day on Monday their attack coach Stephen Larkham revealed that some players had recovered from their latest setback to their old foes better than others as they began switching their attention to another of their do-or-die missions against Toulouse in the Heineken Champions Cup next Saturday at Thomond Park.

One of the more alarming aspects of Munster’s latest defeat by Leinster in last Saturday’s Guinness Pro 14 final was that they appeared to be, well, quite defeatist long before the end, and certainly were afterwards. Larkham admits there is an inevitable issue with self-belief after losing 10 of the last 11 meetings with the same opponents, including the last six in a row.

“When you lose the number of games that we’ve lost to Leinster you start to doubt yourself, so that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. When you make a mistake you get these thoughts popping into your head about potentially hanging on to that mistake for too long and forgetting about the fact that we are good enough to win this game. So just [have] that belief in one another, and yourself, more than anything else.”

In many other respects, though, Larkham did not concur with the widespread view that their performance betrayed the same mistakes.

“I wouldn’t say they [mistakes] were the issue in the game. If you look at it, Leinster had 45 possessions in the game and they made 14 errors with those. We had 36 possessions and we made 10 errors, so it’s like 32 per cent error rate for them and 28 per cent error rate for us.

“So, it wasn’t the deciding factor in the game. Yes, we made mistakes as well, but there are other little fundamentals that we weren’t happy with.

“I am definitely not putting it down to individuals, there were certainly some great passages and some great individual carries and efforts out there on the field that you also need to recognise.”

He also noted that Leinster actually kicked more out of hand (20 times) than Munster (18 times), before citing many positive aspects to his team’s display.

“Well, our lineout was good. Our ball in scrum was good. I think there were a couple of passages where we got what we wanted and there were a couple of individual errors at the end of those. So, for the majority, the attack passages were good, some individual errors.

Keith Earls in the thick of things during the Guinness Pro 14 Final against Leinster at the RDS. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Keith Earls in the thick of things during the Guinness Pro 14 Final against Leinster at the RDS. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

“And then, defensively, outstanding scramble,” ventured Larkham, albeit it had to be because of 36 missed tackles. “We let a couple of clear and obvious line breaks go through the middle of us, but the back three scrambled exceptionally well.

“I thought Keith Earls had an exceptional game on the edge, saving two or three tries down that edge on his own on the back of his scramble mentality. If you look at some of those defensive passages, Leinster are the best team in the competition clearly and they couldn’t get across our try line a number of times.

“We had zero significant passages inside their 22. They did a great job of keeping us out of their 22. Whereas, they had significant ball time inside our 22 and our defence kept pushing them back.

“There are lots of pleasing things there. Like I said a couple of individual errors, there are a couple of fundamentals that we want to get back to this week.”

Larkham’s interpretation of last Saturday’s final appeared at odds with Johann van Graan, who said post-match that Leinster were quite clearly the better team.

“They are,” Larkham admitted, and attributed this to timing, in that Van Graan was speaking in the immediate, emotional aftermath of the game, when there is also a requirement to be generous.

“I think after a game you’ve got to give credit to the team that played well and Leinster played well, there’s no doubt about that. We were evenly matched. They just got us on the night.

“It’s one try between us really that sort of broke our back in that second half. We couldn’t fight back and then they applied pressure in that second half better than we applied pressure to them and, like I said, we’ve been pushing Leinster better than anyone else. Leinster are ahead of us at the moment, but we’re fairly evenly matched. If you look at a two-horse race, the odds are not 100-1 against us.”

Larkham endured a similarly challenging rivalry as a Wallabies player against the All Blacks, and recalled ending the latter’s three-year hold on the Bledisloe Cup with a 3-0 series win in 1998.

“There was definitely a bit of an aura around the All Blacks in the early 90s and then by the late 90s we won the Bledisloe and it came from belief. It came from really good fundamentals, systems and belief. We got there and we became the best team in the world on the back of that.”

In the week that’s in it, acquiring another South African-born lock was not a good look for the province, but Larkham maintained that Munster signed the 6’ 7” once-capped Springbok Jason Jenkins “as a backrow that can cover secondrow” and thus as a ball-carrying loose forward to replace CJ Stander. “That’s our thinking behind Jason.”

Fineen Wycherley has signed a new two-year deal, and Thomas Ahern has been upgraded from the academy along with Jack Daly, Josh Wycherley, and Jack Crowley while 22-year-old hooker Diarmuid Barron has signed a new one-year deal.

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