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'If Larkham and Felix can't get it out of them, well then maybe they have to look at themselves'

Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella assess Munster’s non-performance during last Friday’s defeat to Leinster.

Munster leave the field after another defeat to Leinster at the Aviva.
Munster leave the field after another defeat to Leinster at the Aviva.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

ON THIS WEEK’S The42 Rugby Weekly, Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey reunited to look back on last weekend’s Guinness Pro14 semi-finals and, by extension, preview this weekend’s all-Irish showpiece between Leinster and Ulster.

Topics of discussion included Dan McFarland’s masterstrokes in the northern province’s come-from-behind victory in Edinburgh, Leinster’s concerted — and successful — effort to make the kicking game one of the most lethal components of their arsenal, and whether or not fans and pundits are right to cite concern about the prospect of Johnny Sexton being ‘rested’ for the league decider and what it might mean for the competition’s credibility or lack thereof (spoiler alert: they’re not).

Owen Farrell’s five-game suspension was also tackled at a legal height, as were a few listeners’ questions for good measure.

But what with coverage of Leinster v Ulster this week set to dominate the rugby vertical on this website as well as the pertinent space in newspapers, we felt it prudent to instead transcribe a snippet of the lads’ Munster-related conversation for this week’s teaser piece.

Will it cheer Munster supporters up following last weekend’s defeat to their eastern neighbours? Almost certainly not. But nonetheless, here is a small portion of the conversation between Bernard and Murray, the former of whom levelled some of the blame for Munster’s flat and overly conservative performance at the feet of the players — particularly after so much was heard from the province in relation to their supposed attacking progress under former Wallaby Stephen Larkham prior to rugby’s return.

Bernard Jackman: “If Stephen Larkham is that good, then the players need to start taking some ownership for it.

To be honest, I think some of the players maybe threw Felix [Jones] under the bus — and it’s easy to blame the coach. But if Larkham and Felix can’t get it out of them, well then maybe they have to look at themselves and actually demand that their own standards be higher.

“I think the question has to be asked around the players. In fairness to the board and whoever is involved in financing Munster Rugby, you can criticise them in a lot of other areas like the club game, player pathways et cetera, but in terms of giving that group of players the coaching setup to be successful? You can’t blame anybody for going out and getting Rassie Erasmus, Jacques Nienaber; they lost them going back to the ‘Boks, but they replaced them with Johann who has a very good CV. They didn’t feel as though Felix and [Jerry] Flannery [were the right options] — or whatever happened there, and they went out and got [Graham] Rowntree and Larkham. So, they have backed the players. This summer, they went out and got [RG] Snyman and [Damian] de Allende. Like, they can’t do much more!

“There’s a crop of players there who, for the last seven or eight years, have been there together. And it’s shit or get off the pot, really, you know?

“The players played as though they didn’t believe in that plan [last Friday], right? But you have enough experience there that, on a Monday or Tuesday, they should be saying, ‘Look, lads, that’s not going to work against Leinster; we need to play a bit more.’

“Too many of them had average games to actually challenge Leinster but Johann’s the one getting all the blame at the moment. The reality is there’s enough experience there for the players to take ownership.

“Games change mid-flow. I guarantee you Leinster, over the course of the last 26 or 27 games they’ve won, there have been times they’ve gone off-script a bit and players individually will have gon off-script because they’ve seen an opportunity. And, again, there was no evidence of that [for Munster] last weekend.

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“I think it could be a very good thing for Munster. If they learn a lot from this and become better, it’s probably good in the long run rather than just getting a flukey win and having all of these underlying issues and not going on to have an actual run of success.

“But I do think the time for blaming coaches has to stop, now, and they just need to look at themselves and their own standards and their own ambition and their own leadership structures, just to make sure they don’t keep missing out on opportunities in knockout stages.

“I think the next step has to be to blood those good Ireland U20s that we’ve seen over the last number of years and hope that they can get the job done at the highest level.”

munsters-craig-casey Munster scrum-half Craig Casey. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Murray Kinsella: “There’s a crop of young guys who are certainly more dynamic and can add to the pack. And again, we’re not saying, ‘Lash 15 young lads in there.’ It’s got to be a mix and they’ve got to develop gradually but smartly.

“Look at someone like Shane Daly: he’s 23 now — I know he’s a bit older than some of them, but he’s one of the real bright sparks of the last three weeks, a guy who cares passionately about playing for Munster and a guy who got his chance — albeit probably through injury for Mike Haley. And he took it, and he was one of their better players.

“There are positives there and you would hope that, going forward, guys like Keynan Knox, [Roman] Salonoa — two really dynamic tightheads, obviously with loads to learn; Thomas Ahern — a guy who has that bit of X-factor; John Hodnett who we’ve mentioned previously… There are several guys who need to really be in the mix; Craig Casey getting starts and adding that unbelievable energy and intent. Looking forward, that’s what they’ve got to focus on.”

Bernard Jackman:

If those lads aren’t good enough to play Pro14, I’ll eat my hat. They are good enough to play Pro14 and if they were in Leinster, they would have played [more of] it already. You don’t put them all out in one go — you mix them in amongst some experience, and they’re probably going to win anyway. But they need that.
Also, if you look at the whole thing about giving players a shock to the system, I think for too long, you’ve been guaranteed your position in Munster if you’re established. You saw Dan [McFarland]: he wasn’t afraid to start Tom O’Toole, Eric O’Sullivan [over Jack McGrath and Marty Moore] the other night, just as two examples. And that puts everyone on their toes.

“And whatever format we have for Pro14 or Pro12 over the next few months, you’d just like to see those [Munster] guys blooded. If they can unearth two or three more proper first-teamers, plus the addition of De Allende and Snyman, then they’re not far away.”

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