Ben Brady/INPHO Munster defence coach Denis Leamy with his players.
the brave and faithful
'We're very conscious of what we represent, both in the present and in the past'
Defence coach Denis Leamy admits reaching the URC final was not necessarily part of Munster’s plan at the start of the season.

A URC FINAL and a chance to earn a first piece of silverware since 2011.

“Was it part of the plan? I don’t think I can say it was part of the plan,” says Munster defence coach Denis Leamy.

Earlier in the season, his and Graham Rowntree’s side won just two of their opening seven league games — not a part of their blueprint for success, either.

This Saturday, though, they’re in with a fair shout of ending Munster’s trophy drought and it’s only when Leamy zooms out that he can contextualise how unlikely such an opportunity seemed way back in the autumn.

“Obviously, you can dream and you need to dream in sport, don’t you?

“But the reality is — and I would have sat in front of you guys going back in August, September, October — it was game by game.

“And honestly, it has been game by game,” Leamy smiles. “It’s felt like a lot of these games have been almost that cup-final mentality.

“We haven’t played many games that didn’t have huge significance. So, to get to the actual final and to have something available, that’s tangible at the end of this game, is fantastic.

Leamy stresses at length the extent of the challenge that Munster will face against John Dobson’s Stormers this Saturday in Cape Town. Quick, powerful, strong at set-piece, all of which is combined by a head coach who knows what he’s doing.

And yet, in April, Munster became the first northern-hemisphere side to beat the Stormers in Cape Town in the URC, utilising their maul to devastating effect but equally thwarting the Stormers in transition for the most part, which few sides have managed since the South Africans joined the competition.

Six weeks on, is it replicable?

“It’s a tough ask,” Leamy admits, before turning his attention to the hosts’ outrageous ability in unstructured play.

“We have to be very calm in terms of how we hold onto the ball. We won’t want to be creating fractured play, transitional play… They’re just very good in terms of those first three phases when the transition happens.

“Trying to control that in terms of keeping possession is important. Our kicking game will be important and our speed across the pitch to get in place… It’s something that we’ve spoken about: our whole calmness and how we control things will be really important.

“It’s a great challenge for us and that’s the way we view it: how we implement our game plan and how we control the speed of ball, the time of the tackle… They’re the sorts of things that we’ll discuss.”

Munster’s extraordinary run to the final took its roots earlier in the season, but it remains the case that — aside from the South Africa game at Páirc Uí Chaoimh — this outfit’s signature wins have occurred on the road.

Stretching back as far as their stand at Franklin’s Gardens in Europe or their late heroics against Ulster in Belfast in the URC, and most recently a remarkable four-game run from South Africa through Glasgow and into Dublin, Graham Rowntree’s side have become the archetypal road warriors.

It’s of no surprise to Leamy.

“Away days produce a focus like no others”, he explains, “and we have gotten that right, by and large, on the road.

“We’ve a mentally tough group, a physically tough group now. It has taken a little while but we genuinely feel that we have a hardened bunch on the road.

“We understand what it feels like. It’s a massive challenge to go to places like Glasgow, Leinster, coming to South Africa, everything that it entails… But we have got about our business in a fashion that we feel has been very positive.”

Leamy clarifies he’s been told that, rather than 5,000 Munster fans travelling to Cape Town for Saturday’s final, it’s “more like 2,000″, which he stresses is still a phenomenal heave by the brave and faithful back home.

“We talk about it all the time, it just goes without saying, they’ll travel from Australia, America, Middle East, from Ireland and England, and it’s just fantastic that we will have that number of fans there.

“Ah look, it’s brilliant to go on the road and come to a place like this. You want to give people like that, who have travelled out, a performance.

“Obviously we want to perform for ourselves and everyone that is back home. That goes without saying. That’s part of being in the Munster environment.

“The whole Munster region and beyond, the diaspora means an awful lot to us. We’re very conscious of what we represent, both in the present and in the past.”

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