My TVC15 – Transition

Transition.  “We’re in a transitional phase”.  “This year will be a transitional season”.  And so forth.  It’s one of the more befuddling phrases in modern day sport, because one can never be sure what exactly the entity is transitioning into.  Could it be that they just aren’t as good as they used to be?

Leinster appear to be set for a ‘transitional’ couple of years, where the core of the team that won three Heineken Cups – Sexton, O’Driscoll, D’arcy, Cullen and Jennings – hands over the reins to a new batch of players; expect Ian Madigan, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Cian Healy to become the leaders of the new Leinster.  But will they ‘transition’ back into a team capable of winning multiple Heineken Cups, or simply muddle along for a while?

Without question, though, rugby is a sport which rewards a certain amount of maturity.  A team stacked with youngbloods will invariably lose more than they win, but if they can come of age together the rewards can be great.  Nowhere has this been more clear in recent years than with the Queensland Reds, who invested hugely in a group of age-grade superstars spearheaded by Will Genia and Quade Cooper.  They suffered some horrible scorelines in their early days, but lessons were learned quickly, and they won the Super XV in 2011 in memorable style.

Are Munster about to come out of their ‘transitional’ phase?  The famous monster pack that dominated Europe from 2006-2009 has all but disappeared; only the evergreen Paul O’Connell remains, while Donncha O’Callaghan is still on the books, but very much in wind-down.  Ronan O’Gara has finally disappeared into the sunset and replacements have been sourced.  The age profile of the front row that held its own against Leinster is very promising, and in James Cronin, there is a player of real potential.  Same goes for the backrow, where the only issue on the horizon is ensuring that the impressive James Coughlan can be smoothly replaced at No.8 over the next 18 months.  Our hope is that Peter O’Mahony can step into the role.  Things are even better at scrum-half, where they have unearthed a player who can be one of the elites in the world in his position for years to come.  In the back division, Earls, Jones and Zebo are all here for the long haul and if the issue of recruiting quality centres is still an ongoing problem, well, was it ever any different?

Since Munster won the Heineken Cup in 2008, the fans have had a painful, frustrating five years.  But if this was to have been the worst of it, things really haven’t been that bad.  For sure, the team looked badly coached and unhappy in their own skin under Tony McGahan, and endured growing pains under Rob Penney last season.  At times it looked like they were a result away from oblivion.  They endured some miserable days, but more often than not, were able to put off doomsday for another week every time it loomed into view.  Munster never lost their habit of pulling a result out of the bag when it was most badly needed.  It’s this remarkable stickability that has kept them competitive against the best teams in Europe even when they didn’t look particularly good on paper, or on the pitch. During the fallow period they made three Heineken Cup semi-finals, only once failing to qualify from their group, and won two league campaigns.  In truth, the hand-wringing was probably more a result of having to witness their rivals match and then surpass their two Heineken Cups.

Munster will probably not ‘transision’ into a Europe-dominating behemoth that can supply 75% of the Irish test side any time soon.  Such things require an exceptional generation of players.  But they find themselves back somewhere around where they were in 2004; a fairly limited, but exceptionally gamey, doughty team that will win plenty of hard games, but probably come up heroically short against the really good teams.  There are worse places to be.

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23 Comments

  1. ruckinhell

     /  October 9, 2013

    Not sure if this is a troll or just genuine ignorance on your behalf but have to take exception to the following sentence “But they find themselves back somewhere around where they were in 2004; a fairly limited, but exceptionally gamey, doughty team that will win plenty of hard games, but probably come up heroically short against the really good teams.”

    Rob Penney has been trying to instill a game plan on a team which still hasn’t fully stuck but some of the rugby played this season so far has been far from “limited”, with offloading and multiple runners off each phase the goal. It hasn’t always worked but it’s far from the kick to the corner and maul mentality of the 2004 vintage. The Red Scare blog did a decent entry on this style of play and why Munster can’t really rely on it anymore.

    http://redscarerugby.com/2013/09/22/the-munster-way-part-1/

    Quite frankly, the 2004 reference doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Munster may not win the Heineken Cup this year (or any year depending on what might happen in the next 6 months of negotiations) and they may not match Toulon or Clermont but I think it’s lazy thinking to effectively go full Stuart Barnes and tag them with the “Pashun but no real skill” tag.

    You namechecked a few decent talents (the TOD, CJ Stander and Mike Sherry are key ommissions to what is turning in to a pretty rugged, but skillful pack) but you ommitted younger guys like JJ Hanrahan (certainly), Luke O’Dea (probably) and Ivan Dineen(perhaps) who I think have the talent and skills needed to move the backline to the next level in the next few seasons. Throw in the already established internationals like Murray, Zebo, Earls and a few decent operators like Jones and Keatley and you have the core of an excellent backline who aren’t just there to make their tackles and let the forwards maul another try. To be honest, given the relative strengths and age profiles I’d take the Munster backline at present over the Leinster backline and that is something I never thought I’d say!

    • Thanks ruckinhell – the style of play is obviously totally different to how they played in 2004, but when we say Munter are somewhat limited, it’s by a slight talent deficit to play that style really successfully. You make plenty of cogent arguments for various members of the team, but I still think Munster are one outstanding backrow away from being at the really sharp end.

      • ruckinhell

         /  October 9, 2013

        That’s a fair point Whiff, there isn’t a David Wallace (miss you so much Wally!) level player in the backrow. POM has great potential to be a top level player but I’d be very dubious about the odds of him hitting the heights of Wally who really was an exceptional backrower (in terms of performance levels and consistency at the top level especially so). Stander is an interesting player and I’m a bit miffed as to why he hasn’t seen more game time. He was ommited last year through administrative mismanagement with the registering of the HEC squad players but he hasn’t been given enough time so far this season to build up a head of steam. The TOD had a fantastic season last year and his workrate and physicality are almost Wallyesque but his injury last month is another in a fairly long line of knocks at this stage. I fear he may be too injury prone to make the mark he has the potential to make.

        • If there’s one thing everyone can agree on it’s that Wally was several shades of AWESOME. When is Luke O’Dea back to fitness? He looked a smashing runner when last we saw him, which was ages ago at this stage.

          • ruckinhell

             /  October 10, 2013

            Munster website had him down as back to light contact following a wrist injury due back in next fortnight, so fingers crossed as a decent prospect.

    • Marty M

       /  October 9, 2013

      I reckon Munster are in pretty rude health in the back-row department. POM, TOD and Coughlan is as god as any out there and the back -up of Stander, Dougall/Ronan and Butler is pretty impressive also. Not to mention Dave O’Callaghan or Barry O’Mahony. I dont think many squads out there could boast 9 genuine contenders a such quality. I have to say I hope O’Mahony remains at 6 and Butler is the Coughlan replacement. He is an exceptional talent and with a year or two more behind him will be the real deal!
      The front row is not looking bad in terms of competition for places these days either, nor the second row (although the age profile here is definitely an the higher side).
      As you say the main names and starting back-line is in pretty good shape but in general the back-up is of a pretty average standard (Hanrahan and Conway aside). And as you mention the centre as ever is a bit of a worry, with the starter not exactly being world beaters and the back-up being Ivan Dineen (who has shown glimpses but not that often) and ? Would we be back to Earls if Laulala were out?

      • We said in our preview of the Leinster v Munster game that Munster have a lot of options in the backrow who are of a similar standard, but – outside O’Mahony – have a slight shortage of out and out class. With the best will in the world, POM, TOD (when fit) and Coughlan (possibly starting to slow down?) is not quite ‘as good as any other out there’, admirable and all as the three players are. No shortage of depth though.

        • Marty M

           /  October 9, 2013

          No to push the point but I certainly reckon it is ‘as good’ as any of the Irish and rabo back-rows and completely obliterated the premierships top backrow (consisting the English captain, a Samoan bohemoth and many people’s outside Lions contender at 8) last year. Admittedly some of the French clubs have a few trios of big names but I don’t see any of the Irish (possibly Connacht, although Muldoon, Heenan +Naoupu is still pretty tastey IMO) units struggling there. I can see your point of view re ‘out and out class’ but I dont think it is needed. O’Mahony has at this stage proven his class, O’Donnell was one of the rising stars of last season and Coughlan is an utterly solid workhorse (with the odd bit of skill)….that works for me, and if not there are a multitude of options behind them. O’Donnell may not be Wally yet but he has the potential – Wallace was dropped to play a season with Garryowen around the same age as O’Donnell is now.

          • will1973

             /  October 9, 2013

            Two best provincial backrows:
            Leinster: O’Brien/Heaslip/Jennings
            Ulster: Ferris*/Williams/Henry *injury permitting (if not Henderson)

            these are without doubt a step up from POM/Coughlan/TOD

          • Marty M

             /  October 10, 2013

            Ferris and O’Brien – without a doubt, I would question the rest to varying degrees. It’s a pretty ridiculous argument (which I realise I have begun) and one that can’t ever be directly answered but I would be confident of the Munster three pitted against any of the above, and as I said I reckon the Connacht one would give them all a run for their money. In general I think there is an extremely high level of back-row play in the Irish set-up and makes for some tough decisions for Schmidt come November, I don necessarily expect any of the Munster 3 to get the nod then, but as a unit I think it certainly isn’t a step down from the 2 above.
            As an aside I personally think Henderson’s future should be in the row.

  2. Cian

     /  October 9, 2013

    Although I partly agree with ruckinhell above (limited is not the best choice of word, compared to the 2004 vintage this team are capable of playing much more varied rugby – they just aren’t getting it right consistently yet) I think this is mostly a fair article. The only quibble I’d have is with the proposition that we Munster supporters were more pained by Leinster’s success than our own teams decline. This does us an injustice – I buy into the inter-provincial rivalry as much as the next person, but the notion that I was as upset by Leinster beating Northampton in Cardiff as I was by Munster losing to Ulster in Thomond (or the Ospreys, Toulon, or Clermont) is way off base.

    It will be interesting to see if Munster can reach the pinnacle of European rugby with this squad – depending on how they continue to develop, it’s certainly possible. Likewise with Leinster it could go either way, but I think I’d be more optimistic for Munster over the next five years. They have young options in every position who all look likely to be at least competitive at HEC level, whereas some of Leinster’s next cohort have yet to emerge (understandably given that they’re at a different part of the cycle).

    • ruckinhell

       /  October 9, 2013

      I think all in all it’s a good article and I only have an issue with the highlighted sentence. I think there is some truth to the point WoC raised regarding the recent preeminence of Leinster grating with Munster fans, not least that they put together a serious run of wins against Munster, the catalyst being the HEC semifinal win in Croker. While I cheered them on in the final I can’t say that the semifinal (and the retrospectively cringeworthy hubris that preeceeded it) didn’t hurt a bit at the time. That being said, I’ve met many on both sides of the red/blue fan divide who need to get some persepective into their lives!

    • There’s nothing worse, they say, than seeing your neighbour become rich. Speaking as a Leinster fan, Munster beating Biarritz, for example, didn’t make me upset in and of itself – on the contrary, I was thrilled Munster won! But, at the same time, it did make me all the more disappointed that Leinster had lost the semi-final. What a nuanced thing the interpro rivalry is!

      • Cian

         /  October 9, 2013

        Very true. I felt exactly the same as you’ve just described when Leinster beat Northampton – happy for them, but probably even more gutted that Munster weren’t at the races that year. I also find my antipathy towards Leinster has lessened the longer I live outside Ireland – it’s harder to switch from wanting players to excel in green to relishing their failures in blue. Also, there’s nothing like close proximity to the Welsh and English to foster an affection for all Irish rugby.

  3. zdm

     /  October 9, 2013

    I agree with the sentiment that Munster are improving but limited – that doesn’t mean they are crap, or that they are worse off than Leinster, just that there are a few obvious deficiencies that need addressed to take them to the next level.

    They have some undoubted talent, particularly out wide, which is slightly ironic, given their traditional style but my biggest worry for them is their ability to unlock that talent – they lack a real creative spark in their inside backs and I worry about how they will fare against an aggressive defence. The future of back play in rugby will focus on having multiple points of attack to overwhelm defences – the days of loading all your backs to the side the 10 is on are dying and quick hands aren’t enough in the modern era. This means that multiple creative players will be needed – the old style 2nd 5/8 will see a revival I’m guessing but where the creativity comes from doesn’t matter, as long as it is there – BNZ used Rocko as their 2nd 5/8 a few years back. At the minute, Munster lack that creative spark outside the half backs and this makes their back play a little laboured and predictable at times.

    With regards to Leinster, they look to be lacking a group of leaders for the future – the players identified in the article, while key players, are not leaders (Heaslip excepted) – Madigan needs to be allowed to focus on his own game, O’Brein will play his own game regardless and while Cian Healey is often an inspirational player, I fear that putting any responsibility on his shoulders would negatively impact his natural game. Perhaps that’s why they have persisted with Boss and Reddan at 9, to manage the transition of leadership but at the minute, I don’t see where the Heaslip is going to get his lieutenants from. I also think they lack a bit of niggle without McLaughlin in the squad.

    WoC: any chance of an analysis of where Ulster and Connacht need to bare teeth to progress this season? For me, Connacht need to shake off the plucky losers/surprising winners tag and have a few of their stars front up while Ulster need to improve away from Ravenhill and not lose consistency during international breaks to really push in to big boy school.

  4. Love the Bowie reference in the article title; Station to Station is one of my favourite albums. As regards provincial rivalry, so long as they’re not playing Leinster, I ALWAYS want the other Four Green Fields to win. Watching Quins getting taken to the cleaners last Spring in the Heino quarter-final was as good a piece of entertainment as I’ve had all year. I wasn’t even all that pushed about us losing last Saturday. Munster, Penney, Keatley and all needed that win more than we did. We didn’t get thrashed, came away with a bonus point and had a couple of failings pointed out to us pre-Heino-kickoff against Ospreys. I can live with that. I also think MO’C has needed all the games up until now, just to get a feel for the squad and what he has to work with. The first real proof of his ability as Leinster coach begins on Saturday in Swansea at 18.00. Can’t wait!!!

  5. Yossarian

     /  October 9, 2013

    A lot of the post match talk has been critical of various leinster players/performances but leinster do have a new coach and Munster are in a second season with penny. There is a transition(hate the idea of a team transition) with a new coach in style.it takes time for players to adapt. He is not Schmidt and probably isn’t trying to mimic every facet of that game plan but subtlety put his own stamp on the team.

    The old Munster leinster hate is definitely dropping. Multiple h cup/Rabo wins have dampened it down. Sated appetites and all that.
    The ex leinster boys helping Munster to a new level brings back the ability v game time debate. Keatley,jones,(Morris in Leicester/Downey all over Europe) will see how Conway progresses but maybe leinsters “transition” has been stymied by having world class
    /lions/internationals across the back line for so long.

  6. Len

     /  October 9, 2013

    I seem to remember Leinster being in a similar position at this point in JS first year as coach. People were calling for his head. Let’s give MOC a bit of time to settle in. We won two drawn one and lost two, for Leinster that’s a pretty good start to the year. I say we reserve judgement until at least January.

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