Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 8°C
# New Face
'Munster is an amazing club. The supporter base, they're fanatics'
New senior coach Stephen Larkham is looking forward to working with Joey Carbery.

HE WAS WARNED not to expect too much of the Irish weather, even in summer, so Stephen Larkham has been pleasantly surprised to be able to crack open the patio doors of his new family home in Limerick in the last few days.

The Australian is a week into his time in Ireland, having joined Munster as senior coach ahead of the 2019/20 season.

The 45-year-old was the Wallabies’ attack coach as recently as February, but a difference of opinions with Michael Cheika saw him departing the set-up.

stephen-larkham Morgan Treacy / INPHO Larkham is a week into his time in Ireland. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Larkham got a phone call from Munster boss Johann van Graan around three months ago, with the pair having been acquainted from coaching against each other in Test rugby, van Graan previously having worked with the Springboks.

Well aware of Munster’s history and stature, Larkham didn’t hesitate for long in taking the opportunity.

“Johann said how interested he was in interviewing me and seeing whether I’d be right for the role. It’s an amazing club. It’s well-known around the world. The supporter base, they’re fanatics and it’s amazing what they bring to the game,” said Larkham today in Limerick, also referencing the province’s win over the All Blacks in 1978.

“I came over eight weeks ago after talking to Johann and had a bit of a look around. There’s a brand-new High Performance Centre here, a really good roster, so it was a no-brainer. There’s so many positives for coming over here.

“As a coach from the Southern Hemisphere, I guess there’s always that lure and challenge of the European competition and I knew I needed to get over here at some stage.”

Larkham is honest in admitting he “didn’t respect Northern Hemisphere rugby” when he was still playing the game, as obsessed with Super Rugby, the Tri-Nations and beating the All Blacks as he was.

A World Cup winner with the Wallabies in 1999, Larkham said he’s already learning the error of his ways.

“Looking at that game over the weekend, it was amazing to watch the raw power of England and the way Ireland battled through that game,” said Larkham.

“Watching some of the Munster games from last year in the Pro14 and Heineken Cup, there’s some amazing rugby being played up here in tough conditions. So you’ve got to respect it.”

stephen-larkham Morgan Treacy / INPHO The Munster senior coach at training in UL today. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Although adding his experience in all coaching areas, Larkham will be primarily be working with Munster’s attack, which will hope to build on last season’s improvement to become a more effective force.

The new senior coach looks at Ireland internationals like Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, Chris Farrell, Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, and Mike Haley and sees exciting possibilities for what the province can do.

“Those guys are away at the moment obviously. If you look at the form of Ireland on Saturday, maybe they’re not going to be away for too long!” said Larkham with a smile.

“Maybe they’ll come back early, but hopefully they’re there for a fair period and Ireland do OK.

“Go through the forwards, I don’t know all their names at the moment, still getting my head around that – I’m pretty good with the backline as I’ve spent time with them but not so good on the forwards.

“But at the top level, when we get those players back, we’ve got a really competitive team that can beat any other team in the competition. In the meantime, some of the results last year with guys who were probably new to the set-up, fantastic results, so there’s good depth here as well.”

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The relationship between Carbery – currently with Ireland but injured – and Larkham will be particularly fascinating to follow, with the 23-year-old playmaker having already been compared to Larkham in his own playing days.

joey-carbery James Crombie / INPHO Carbery is currently away injured with Ireland. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

If Carbery proves his fitness for the World Cup, he won’t be back in the Munster set-up for some time yet, but Larkham is excited to work with the out-half.

“He’s a very, very skillful player,” said Larkham of Carbery. “He’s got all the skills – kicks off both feet. I think he’s quite a dynamic, athletic running five-eighth as well, so he challenges the line quite well.

“I really haven’t seen enough of him in Munster colours, so I’m still catching up on the games from last year.

“There’s some other talented five-eighths here as well, so JJ [Hanrahan] and Tyler [Bleyendaal] and Ben Healy, a couple of injured guys too. We have talent in that area but Joey has a great all-round game. I’m really enjoying working with the guys we’ve got here at the moment and really looking forward to working with him.”

As for the collective Munster attack, Larkham referenced Munster’s “pretty good record” last season, but pointed to the scope for improvement.

“There’s a little bit of detail and we probably didn’t create enough linebreaks or beat enough players one-on-one, so we’re looking at a bit of that detail at the moment.

“We want to maintain what we’ve had over the last couple of years and what we’ve been working towards.

“Last year was probably a step up in terms of attack, so maintaining that and then putting a bit of detail around other areas of the attack.”

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