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Dublin: 2 °C Sunday 24 February, 2019

'To think Munster can match Leinster's resources without a well-managed club system is a joke'

On Heineken Rugby Weekly, Murray Kinsella and Andy Dunne discuss the challenges faced by Munster in producing players at underage level.

ON THIS WEEK’S Heineken Rugby Weekly on (available on iTunes, Soundcloud and your usual podcast provider), Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey discussed the fallout from Munster’s victory over Leinster in an ill-tempered affair at Thomond Park, how Johnny Sexton might need to work on his ‘confrontational’ style of captaincy, and where Connacht and Ulster’s own clash leaves both sides ahead of the last round of inter-pros this weekend.

Gavan also met up with Leinster and Ireland flier Jordan Larmour for a chat in which the 21-year-old detailed his meteoric rise to prominence over the last 18 months, and why he felt Leinster lost their cool in Limerick.

As per usual, our resident analysts also fielded a couple of queries from listeners, including one who messaged the podcast asking:

‘What has happened the Munster academy? Far too many non-Munster players in the squad.’

Here are Murray and Andy’s thoughts on how Munster go about producing players, some of the talent already developing within their academy system, and what might need to happen in order for the southern province to further close the off-field gap between themselves and their neighbours to the east.

Joey Carbery applauds off Leinster Victorious Munster applaud Leinster off the field after what Andy Dunne described on the podcast as a turgid game of rugby at Thomond. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Murray Kinsella: “Probably, the schools and club environment in Munster — both by population numbers and by the quality of players coming through — hasn’t provided quite as many [players] there.

“I would say if you look at the current crop and guys who are coming through, like Fineen Wycherley and Gavin Coombes who are both from west Cork — that’s a really exciting development for Munster. There has always been the hope to get more from the whole province rather than just Limerick and Cork, which have traditionally provided the bulk of the players.

“You’ve seen guys like [Darren] Sweetnam and others — Liam Coombes is another one coming through. Waterford is probably another place that they can tap into a little bit more. Those other areas of the province are going to be really important.

“Munster are aware that they need to keep pace with Leinster’s rate of developing players and the quality of player that’s coming through.

“Now, they [Leinster] do have the advantage of population, of essentially 10 or 12 academies in the schools system as we’ve mentioned here before as well. So, it’s tough to keep pace with that.

I do think that Munster have been a bit more focused in how they’re doing it — they’ve probably been a little bit more cut-throat in the last couple of years. They released seven players straight out of the academy last year and kind of moved on with a new batch. But I do think it’s fair to ask the question — I don’t think they’re going to be quite at Leinster’s level. But I think that’s understandable given those factors we’ve mentioned.

Liam Coombes scores a try Liam Coombes, 21, scores a try against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Source: Frikkie Kapp/INPHO

Andy Dunne: “An example I could give: I was working as a physio about a year and a half ago — I ended up doing a Castleknock College under-13s rugby match as a favour to a friend — it was Castleknock against… I think it was King’s Hospital.

[It was] a relatively local schools under-13s game. ‘A’s, ‘B’s, ‘C’s and ‘D’s, four pitches, a few parents around, and two guys in big Leinster manager’s jackets with an iPad. And I walked over to them and I asked, ‘Are you two parents just wearing Leinster jackets?’ And they were like, ‘No, no — we’re here watching [for Leinster].’

“I couldn’t get over that. That was just a friendly, Wednesday afternoon fixture between two schools. So, they [Leinster] obviously have the resources and they can pay people to do that, or they have incredibly generous volunteers — one or the other!

“But that type of attention to detail is probably why they’re now converting what they’ve always had, population-wise, into success.

“I’m ignorant to what Munster are doing in a similar vein, but as Murray mentioned, if you look at the greater size of the province — and traditionally they’ve gotten their players from Limerick and Cork city — but then you look at, say, Water Park over in Waterford, Glenstal winning the [Munster Schools] Senior Cup last year… They’re great positives.

“It’s great to see that younger players of different origins are being successful at underage level, and hopefully they [Munster] can tap into it.”

MK: Ben Healy [formerly of Glenstal] is a very exciting prospect, now, in the academy — good out-half. It’s interesting that the director of rugby in Glenstal is Sean Skehan, who’s the brother of Andy Skehan in St. Michael’s, and they’ve done a lot of the same things, they play a similar style. Obviously, Sean’s got his own ideas in the game as well, but there’s been a bit of an overlap there.

“And obviously, Glenstal — it’s pretty expensive to go to that school, so therefore there’s probably a little bit more money for the rugby budget as well.

“Just on the scouting thing, Munster are obviously looking at players. It’s been interesting to speak to a couple of schools and clubs coaches who maybe have been aggrieved that their young player hasn’t been pushed on into the academy. Now, that’s always going to happen no matter where you are, but one of the perceptions over the last couple of years has been that Munster have always been looking for a specific type of player. That obviously makes sense, because you have an identity that you want your province to play to.

But others have perceived it as maybe overlooking a talented, smaller winger, or someone in the back row who maybe doesn’t have Peter O’Mahony’s leadership qualities or the same personality. That’s probably been a learning for Munster, I would say, on the inside: how they identify players and understand the different rates of progress as well, because a guy who’s training twice a week with his club is obviously going to struggle to be as developed as a guy in a really good schools programme that’s training every day.

“I probably had that experience myself, coming from Waterford, from a good school in Newtown school where we played a lot of rugby but I always felt, ‘Oh my God, I’m years behind these guys from Pres and from Christians.’ So, there has probably been that understanding as well [on Munster's behalf], to try and bring guys through at a younger age so that they don’t feel that gap when they’re in the under-18s, under-19s environment.

Like, Shane Daly is a guy who has been involved with the Sevens recently — probably would be on a development contract this season if not for that, I think. And there’s certainly more talent coming through. If you watch the Ireland 20s in the spring in the Six Nations, there’ll be quite a few Munster guys there: the likes of Jonathan Wren, Sean French — really exciting Munster backs. Craig Casey at scrum-half. So there is a lot of talent there. I think people will probably appreciate that a little bit more [during the U20 Six Nations].

“It’s only months ago we were talking about Ulster’s academy producing nothing, and now they’re starting to get quite a few of them through.”

Jonathan Wren, John Hodnett and Sean French Munster prospects Jonathan Wren, John Hodnett and Sean French. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

AD: “There’s one glaring area where Munster have really been damaged, I think.

The IRFU has dismissed club rugby. They have. And club rugby was the bedrock of Munster’s success: Shannon have nine All-Ireland leagues, and most of [the forwards in] that Shannon team were that Munster pack. I coached in a game last year the day of Johnny Sexton’s drop goal in Paris — Old Belvo against UL. So you take into account we have a 20-man Old Belvo squad, five or six support staff, and supporters — there’s probably 50-odd people involved in the club [on the day], and about 50 from UL. There was 10 teams in every league, and all five leagues played at half-two or three o’clock on the same Saturday that Ireland were playing in Paris.

“And I think it was one of the most dismissive things you could see from an IRFU management point of view, where they’ve got weekends from September to April, and if you take the 12 weeks of summer off, you’ve still got 40 weeks of the year to play 18 matches. And they still put [AIL] games on the day of an international.

“They’ve dismissed club rugby out of hand. Now they put money into academies and all the rest, but Joey Carbery didn’t get into the Leinster academy. He went to Clontarf, he played club rugby and he got recognised by playing brilliant club rugby. He went to Leinster, and now ends up in Munster.

Dan Carter didn’t get into one of his academies in Canterbury. So to dismiss people who don’t get into academies, and not invest in club rugby, is a huge miss for the IRFU. And it’s having an effect on Munster Rugby. And it’s had an effect on the culture down there — it’s not as formidable a place to go and play club rugby anymore. Dublin players used to shit themselves going down there because they knew they were going to get a really torrid time. It was, without doubt, a dominant place. Now you look at club rugby, and again clubs with more money and more resources like Clontarf and Lansdowne are fairly dominant.

“Cork Con have held their own, and great credit to that club for doing it — they have an amazing system themselves going from under-5s all the way up.

But overall, to think how Munster Rugby can match the resources and power and population of Leinster without access to a well-managed club system is a bit of a joke in my mind. And I think that’s an IRFU problem — that’s not a Munster issue.

Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey look back on Munster’s victory over Leinster, Johnny Sexton’s bad day at the office, and where Connacht and Ulster stand ahead of this weekend’s inter-pros

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