Jerry Flannery: We reached a level we must aim for every week
Published 28/10/2016 | 02:30
I hope none of us have to go through a week like that again, but after a harrowing seven days I was so proud that it finished off with Munster's players and supporters paying tribute to Axel in the manner they did.
Thomond Park was packed out and that played a huge part in it for us. Everyone in the ground was grieving - it wasn't just Axel's close friends. The whole rugby community was affected and seeing the way they came out in support of us lifted my spirits and restored my faith in Munster rugby and people in general.
For us as coaches, we lost one of our best friends, but we didn't have to play a game of rugby the next day. The players had to go out there and perform. Even on the best of days you can never be 100 per cent sure that things will work out, you can only do your best, but I was very proud of the way they stood up and showed their true character.
It was important that we prepared very well during the week. Training was almost an escape from everything: everyone was so upset that any chance to distract yourself and get out and train was welcomed. It was a release and an escape for us to go back to autopilot.
We didn't have to touch on anything from a motivational point of view because we knew that would look after itself. The main thing was that we technically got everything right. The worst thing to do would be to not have our work done. Put yourself in the players' shoes; imagine if we had sent them out for that game without being prepared. How could they represent Munster and represent everything that Axel stood for if they were under prepared. Thankfully, we got that right.
Our aim was to go out and play like Anthony wanted us to. We mauled well, our scrum gave us a great return and both of those skills were things that Axel loved about Munster rugby. Then going down to 14 men brought our efforts to another level altogether.
Playing against a team like Glasgow, who are capable of scoring from anywhere, we knew it was never a done deal when we were well ahead. Down to 14 players we had to be efficient in defence, make big reads, commit to them early and by and large that worked for us.
You always wonder what players think about their coaches. I knew what my relationship was with Axel but I had no idea about how he was really perceived by the lads. But to see what he meant to everyone here and how they stood up was remarkable. An example is Tyler Bleyendaal going out to Olive and the two boys on Sunday to drop off his man of the match award for them. That was a terrific gesture.
Axel wasn't a man for a lot of words, but in the last week I have heard lots of stories from the players about the private chats he had with them. He always had time for them. He was the most loyal man I have ever come across, but the way he looked after the players was incredible. That meant a lot to the lads and their payback to him was putting on a performance that he'd have been proud of at Thomond Park.
Looking back at the European Cup a few years ago when Munster beat Toulouse so emphatically at Thomond Park, the following week Glasgow beat us at home. After a big win that's what you fear and what you need to avoid.
To go up to Belfast and play Ulster is a good thing for us because that's a huge test. We have to try and back it up again, but Ulster have a fantastic team and it will really be a big step up for us again.
But training has been good this week, even though the six-day turnaround is always tough. We have a few changes in the team and it is important to get the reps in for those lads.
The last few times we've played Ulster we have seen how effective they are with their attack, so it's vital to try and deny them front-foot ball. If we can disrupt their set-piece and manage to defend on the front foot against them it will be crucial.
But then they maul well too; they have some really intricate micro plays in attack and they'll attack the line with multiple options. They are far from a one-trick pony.
A lot of people have doubted Munster over the last few years, but when you deliver one of the best Munster performances ever at packed Thomond Park, it is important to show that we can make the step up again. You can't expect to hit those levels every week, but still we cannot drop off to a level where we lose these kind of games either. A big performance and win is the target.