Old values have to be met with new philosophy to breed success

What has always been successful won’t always be successful. It’s true for soccer, just as true as it is for rugby. Just because you have always been successful doesn’t mean that you always will be. Just ask Manchester United, or Arsenal.

Go back in time 10 years and tell fans of both clubs that, in a decade, both clubs would be so far off the pace in the English Premier League that they’d be closer to the bottom than they are to the top and they’d probably scoff at you. If you went back to Liverpool fans celebrating their league title in 1990 and told them that, as of 2019, that would be the last one they would win, they’d scoff too.

Liverpool with the League Championship trophy 1990 Ronnie Rosenthal, Ian Rush, ronnie Whelan, Alan Hansen and John Barnes ©INPHO/Allsport

Elite sport erodes you if you don’t evolve and it doesn’t care about your culture, your history, or where you think you should be in the sport. If you don’t evolve with the sport, and ideally evolve ahead of the sport, it’ll chew you up and spit you out. When you’re ahead of the game, you talk about winning. When you’re behind the curve, you talk about history and then, if results are bad enough, “ethos”.

If you listen to Manchester United fans at the moment, there seems to be a clash between whether a coach “getting” the sporting ethos of the club is important or not, especially in an environment where results are poor.

The key part of that conundrum is the results. If you’re getting results and being where you want to be, your ethos is whatever is working. When you’re losing, complaints about “ethos” can usually be translated into “we should go back to the way we were when we were winning”.

You hear a lot of about this in rugby, especially around Munster. It struck me on Friday night as I was commentating on Munster’s narrow loss to Edinburgh in Musgrave Park. Munster are really approaching our work in a different way this season.

Guinness PRO14, Irish Independent Park, Cork 29/11/2019 Munster vs Edinburgh Munster’s Ben Healy kicks a penalty Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

Some of the shapes are familiar but the attitude in how we’re approaching almost everything is different. Players are looking for offloads, attacking the line with depth and pace, and passing to other players in space. They have the confidence to do so, the licence – the “fear” of making a mistake isn’t really there anymore.

These are not “traditional values” that people usually associate with Munster when we were winning things. South Africa are a great example of working with what you have to win while also coinciding with the idea everyone has of them.

They have the best lineout in World Rugby, a massive scrum, an athletic kick chase and a monster defensive press. Anything that goes too far away from that aspect of the game would be needless artifice and it just so happens to coincide with what we imagine South Africa’s “traditional values” to be.

Munster’s Heineken Cup winning years are associated with similar qualities. A top end lineout, a huge maul and big hitting, test quality forwards being driven around the pitch by one of the best tactical fly halves the game has ever seen and a scrum-half who had an almost generational ability to turn average ball into quick ball and quick ball into gold.

Alan Quinlan to retire at the end of the season 13/4/2011 Heineken Cup Final 20/5/2006 Munster Shaun Payne, Ronan O’Gara and Alan Quinlan celebrate the final whistle Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

But in an environment where you don’t have an all test pack and half-back pairing, what do you do? Do you stay playing the style of rugby that suited those players or do you try something else? We’ve seen what happens when Munster ran into a side that we couldn’t get forward parity with during big games over the last few seasons, we lost, and by a distance. If not on the scoreboard, in reality. 

It’s not about having a strong set-piece. That’s the baseline expectation for a club that wants to win things. It’s a bit like the old Chris Rock bit where he talks about people wanting credit for doing things that they’re supposed to do. Oh, you’ve got a strong set-piece? You’re supposed to. At least if you want to win things. Once you’re soli there, you need to build beyond that.

By hiring Stephen Larkham, Munster and Johann van Graan have made a bold commitment to try “something else” and, in doing so, made a bid to hopefully evolve ahead of the game.  If you play in 2020 like how everyone else is trying to play in 2022, you’ve got a great chance of winning things. The fruits of it might not be seen this season, but sometimes the best decisions take time to play out.

Munster Rugby Squad Training, UL, Limerick 19/11/2019 Senior coach Stephen Larkham and Head coach Johann van Graan Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Social Sharing

Posted in

WATCH: Munster team Manager Niall O’Donovan provides squad update

Munster Rugby Team Manager Niall O’Donovan is the High Performance Centre’s designated COVID-19 Manager and he has provided ...
Read More

IRFU announce plans for 2020/21 club season

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) have released their plans for the 2020/21 club season. In a statement ...
Read More

WATCH: RG Snyman gives first interview as Munster player

World Cup winner RG Snyman has given his first interview since joining Munster earlier this summer. The second-row ...
Read More

Munster’s classic with the All Blacks from 2008 to be shown on RTE tonight

RTÉ are set to show Munster's classic game against the All Blacks in 2008 at 11:25 pm tonight. ...
Read More

Carbery remains the best option to help Munster end drought

JOEY CARBERY has played 17 times for Munster since his acrimonious move south in the summer of 2018. ...
Read More

The Breakdown EP139: Barrett’s move, Sheridan’s appointment and return of the Pro 14

In this week's podcast, Matt and Tom look at Beauden Barrett's upcoming move to Japan as well as ...
Read More

Cathal Sheridan “It Was a No Brainer When the Opportunity Came Up”

Cathal Sheridan has expressed his delight in returning to sport after his appointment as Director of Rugby at ...
Read More

Alex Wootton joins Connacht on season-long loan deal

Munster Rugby have today confirmed that winger Alex Wootton will join Connacht on a season-long loan deal https://twitter.com/Munsterrugby/status/1279014536377503744?s=20 ...
Read More