“There’s a munster way but rugby’s moved on”
kNOw LEiNstER and Connacht have been successful in recent years, but when i played in the Nineties it was all Munster, so when the job came up this summer it was perfect timing.
My entire rugby career has been based around my family. i had my twins in the year i stopped playing, spent a few years at the stormers before they went to school, and spent five happy years with the south African Rugby Union.
with secondary school the next step for my boys and my daughter at primary school, my wife and i thought if we wanted a rugby adventure it had to be now. My CEO at sARU was very supportive. i knew ireland had a fantastic reputation for the standard of life and warmth of the people, and we haven’t been disappointed. i feel settled already.
i’ve been given advice by so many who played in the glory years. From Axel (Anthony Foley) to Jerry Flannery, they’ve been willing with their time. then there’s Paul O’Connell, who i sat with to get his views on the province. Felix Jones, our technical coach, helps with continuity.
we don’t want to lose the soul of Munster, but on the flipside we have to try new things. i think it was Albert Einstein who said: “if you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got”, and that’s true here. there’s a Munster way, which has been integral to their success, but rugby has moved on. there are behaviours we need to interrogate as a group, even if the process is uncomfortable. if it still works then fine, we’ll keep it in, but if it’s something that must be addressed we’ll do that.
we spent a lot of time pre-season working on the set-piece, which is very important to us. there’s not a competition in the world where it doesn’t form the foundation of a successful side, but it’s something that’s a constant work-on. improvement won’t come overnight and i’m sure the supporters of this club will recognise that.
As far as my management style goes, i believe you have to let players play. they need feedback but in time i’d like to get all the players to think like coaches. if they can think like coaches and play intelligently and passionately, even better.
there’s no lack of experience at Munster. we already have a strong leadership group with keith Earls, Peter O’Mahony and Conor Murray and there is a huge talent pool coming through. Darren sweetnam has impressed me and there
iare so many talented academy boys; players with X-factor, like stephen Fitzgerald and Dan Goggin. we handed out 12 new caps in pre-season and they’re right up there with the players i’ve coached through my career. You can’t put too much pressure on the youngsters, we don’t want them to lose their personality. You can’t put a 30-year-old head on a 21-year-old’s body. Paul O’Connell understands that. Paul was 18 once and grew into the player he was. His mentorship has been fantastic.
Another change is Jacques Nienaber joining as defence coach. we were in the military together back in the early Nineties, so we go back a long way. He was my physio as a player and followed me to the stormers and sARU. He’s always been successful because he’s so driven.
we’ll need people like that going into Europe and i know it has formed Munster’s DNA. it’s a tough pool with Racing, Glasgow and Leicester to play but i’ve been used to super Rugby and the Rugby Championship and it has the same white lines and 15 players on both teams, so we won’t be overawed. Leicester beat us twice last season and they’ve added JP Pietersen, who i know well. then you have last season’s beaten finalists with Ronan O’Gara, who knows our ins and outs, and Glasgow, who are doing great things.
we must be mindful not to lose focus in the Pro12, which is important. it was nervy last season but we made it through and have to take something from dealing with pressure. the season promises to be very interesting.
Young ruckus Munster U19 contest a lineout against Ulster