Wednesday 23 August 2017

Determined Archer aims to 'string a few starts together'

The Big Interview: Stephen Archer

Stephen Archer wants more game-time in the second half of the season. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Stephen Archer wants more game-time in the second half of the season. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Ireland international Stephen Archer is still to crack the century of caps in the Pro12, but with 119 appearances between the league and Europe for Munster, he has witnessed the good times and the bad.

The 28-year-old Corkonian was an unused replacement when Munster last won silverware, the Pro12 in 2011. But the intervening years have been difficult for the province, and yet with nothing to show for the last five years, Munster look to be on the cusp of greatness once more.

The camp remain coy in their public declarations, and they shy away from any notions that they could be set to lift another Pro12 or Champions Cup trophy this season, but the signs are there that they might be challengers again.

In Europe, Munster have been particularly ruthless, and after the emotional month of October, when they lost Anthony Foley, they bounced back.

But tighthead prop Archer wants to play a bigger role in the second half of 2016-'17. He starred in Munster 'A's B&I Cup success against Doncaster Knights last weekend, and knows he must keep pushing if he wants to reach his goals.

"I have had a good few appearances but not many starts. More than anything just looking for the opportunity to string a few starts together," says Archer.

"Obviously John Ryan is flying it this season, he is playing really well and is the man to catch at the moment. There is a lot of competition and I just need to focus on improving every week and when I do get the opportunity, put my best foot forward."

The former CBC schoolboy, who has two caps for Ireland, made 13 appearances and scored a try this season. But that collector's item against Zebre in October hasn't secured his spot in the No 3 jersey.

"You need to keep working hard. The way training is at the moment it is very competitive so you get the chance to put your foot forward there.

"Over the Six Nations there is a lot of league matches. It would be great to get a few games there. Hopefully I can put up a few good performances and start asking questions of the coaches."

John Ryan has been the main man for Munster at tighthead, but with Archer and Thomas du Toit for competition, there are no certainties as to who wears the jersey from week to week.

Archer loves around the competitiveness around Munster's new High Performance Centre, and with the B&I Cup side qualifying for their quarter-final too, it's another sign things are on the up.

"The lads have won nearly all of their matches in the B&I Cup. Playing the other night there was a lot of young fellas, and they were some of the best players.

Buzz

"There is such a good buzz around the squad. With training being competitive, it reflects well on both sides. Last week the 'A's were running a lot of plays against the lads. And at the weekend it worked out well for both teams.

"There's nearly two players in every position. That competition is definitely helping the performance of guys across the squad. Fellas are on their toes all of the time and you know if you don't put in a performance you could be out and someone else will do it in your absence."

All of the competition led to a positive environment around Munster Rugby as they began 2017 with four victories - two B&I Cup successes, and huge Champions Cup victories over Racing 92 and Glasgow.

Last weekend's victory against the Scottish heavyweights was one of Munster's most impressive wins, and they continue to develop into a side that knows how to win ugly.

"It's a brilliant record. We are on a serious run at the moment but if you do start thinking ahead too far you could become guilty of taking your eye off the ball and that's when you get done.

"In fairness to coaches and management, they know how we tick and they challenge us every week in training. We are always kept busy and focused on the task.

"Looking at last weekend's result, the lads ground it out well in Glasgow. It was a real knife-edge game. And the week before it was more a well-rounded performance.

"But a lot of it is momentum. Having confidence and momentum is massive in rugby.

"We have an opportunity to secure a home quarter-final this weekend and it would be massive for the team going forward."

Munster haven't played in a European quarter-final since they hammered Toulouse 47-23 at Thomond Park in 2013-'14.

It was another memorable occasion at the Limerick venue, but one Archer missed through injury, and he hopes to be on the pitch if they get to play a European quarter-final back there this season.

"I actually missed the Toulouse game that time. I got injured at the end of that season. I remember that day, we gave them a good hockeying. It was a very good performance. I remember being in the stand, jealous watching on.

"A home quarter-final would be some carrot and opportunity for the squad. You look at Racing 92 coming over, I know they don't have much to play for, but whatever team they bring will be star-studded full of internationals.

"Rog is a proud guy, he won't be happy with the way they performed in Paris a couple of weeks ago and you can be sure they will be coming over to cause an upset.

"There is no point in getting carried away, you just have to concentrate on Racing 92."

Irish Independent

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