One a great wind came and began to tug at the walls of the farmer’s new cottage. First, the eaves started to rumble. Then the walls shook. Then the windows blew in and scattered glass and rain all over the rooms of the house. The farmer and his family managed to escape just as the house collapsed.
The next morning, as the farmer set about fixing his home, his toolset sat in on the ground and deliberated what went wrong amongst themselves. The saw had an opinion. After a few minutes of squabbling, the hammer shouted over the crowd. “Enough!” cried the hammer, “The answer is simple! We just needed to hammer the nails in harder.”
The magical hammer is right, of course, but only in the very rare circumstance where nails aren’t hammered in all the way. When a house falls down, there are lots of reasons why – maybe the plans were off, maybe the walls were wrong, maybe the foundations were iffy and maybe, just maybe, the wind was too strong in the first place.
When I hear people talking about “wanting it more” as a reason why Rugby Team A wins and Rugby Team B loses, I think of that magic hammer seeing a small part of the story, missing the bigger picture, but thinking that the small part they do see is the story.
Last season, when Ulster were losing a few games and on the road to where they are this season, you’d hear every week how the lads looked like “they didn’t want it” and they just needed to “front up”.
All of a sudden this season with Jack McGrath, Iain Henderson, Stuart McCloskey and one of the best forwards in the world, Marcell Coetzee, back playing regularly in big games, Ulster were doing better and “Wanting It Enough” so that they can win more than they lose.
So getting their coaching team in place over two seasons and signing guys like McGrath, Moore, Carter, Faddes, Burns, Addison and Jordi Murphy for their first team over the same period to augment the quality they already had there made them better able to compete in big games?
Man, those guys must have brought in some amount of Want and Desire. Or maybe there’s a more obvious truth. At the top levels of rugby union, you won’t really get anywhere unless you have that “want” to win rugby games.
Let’s assume that every player who goes out there for Munster “wants” it. Nobody wants to go out there and play poorly or fall off tackles. Nobody wants to come off the field talking about learning lessons or doing better next week. You want to win. You want to score tries. You want to smash guys back in the tackle.
But when the other team want it as much as you do, rugby becomes the game that it always was, our big guys against yours. If your big guys beat our big guys, they’ll probably win the game no matter what our attitude is.
Attitude is step one. It’s leaving your house with your shoes and wallet. It’s the first step on a ladder that is 12 steps high 20 odd years into professionalism.
Whenever I hear people telling me that Munster should go back to the glory days of 2000 to 2008, all I can think is that what you’re really saying is that we should go back to the time when we had a physically massive, test quality pack that ran over most of the teams we faced. It’s easy to have a great attitude when you’re beating everyone up.
The way the game has developed over the last few years has put a real premium on top-level size and power, especially in the forwards and midfield and especially when it comes to the top end of European rugby and the test arena.
Don’t believe me? Look who won the 2019 World Cup. “What about Japan!” Japan had three full seasons under Jamie Joseph to build a game that could compete at their home World Cup and the majority of their squad played hardly any rugby relative to their opposition in the lead up to it.
Three full seasons. One year prior to the World Cup that was almost exclusively training and physical preparation. Japan didn’t have the same kind of power as their opposition, but they had time, they had a few key athletes to build around and then the few bits of luck that everyone needs.
Essentially, if you don’t have that power, coaches will need time to develop the structures you need to play around the power of the opposition. And even then, you’d better pack as many test calibre power athletes you can find into your squad just to be sure. Once you have all of that, you’d be surprised how easily the “want” and “desire” comes.