'Rassie and Jacques have given us a new lease of life' - Dave Kilcoyne
Prop enjoying coaching duo's style but warns big improvement is needed ahead of Euro opener
Published 23/09/2016 | 02:30
Munster have been successful with 90pc of their tackles this season, with 409 of a possible 456 hits finding their target; the players have fronted up and welcomed the arrival of defence coach Jacques Nienaber.
Munster have had two wins from their opening three games, and have been utterly dominant around the collision zones to return the province to their perch as one of the meanest defences in the league.
Loosehead prop Dave Kilcoyne is thrilled with what he has seen from his new master in defence, and he believes the South African influence can lead Munster to bigger and better things in 2016-17.
'Killer' has played in all three games against Scarlets, Cardiff Blues and Dragons, but only as a replacement for James Cronin on each occasion. However, he has still made a huge impression.
The try he got in the 24-23 defeat to Cardiff was a fine team effort, but with seven tackles in just 24 minutes after his introduction in Parc y Scarlets a week earlier, Kilcoyne set the standard for the season.
In Round 2 he popped up for a try that ultimately salvaged a losing bonus point, while he made four successful hits and didn't miss a single tackle in that game. And despite not racking up as many gruesome blows against the Dragons last time out, Kilcoyne has revelled under the new regime.
"I love the way Jacques coaches 'D'. I would have the same mindset if I was a defensive coach. He has simple principles," says Kilcoyne.
"He believes in a simple philosophy: it's you or them and get off the line. Try and cause physical damage to people. It's the defensive system that I fit in well into and one I love being a part of.
"Jacques is an incredible person, and has the mind for the game. He brings in a good mindset for Munster and he drives on the work ethic within the province."
Kilcoyne (27) is in his sixth season as part of the Munster senior set-up; he has made 103 appearances for his native province and scored 14 tries since his debut in the 2011-12 season.
The Limerick man has also played 16 times for Ireland and travelled to South Africa as part of the touring squad last summer, when they were unlucky to go down 2-1 in the three-game series.
For Kilcoyne that came at the end of a tough season for him and his province, and while he completed his Masters in Business Project Management, he also had to rally behind Munster's efforts to get into the Champions Cup once again.
"The summer was excellent I was on the tour to South Africa. We were a bit disappointed especially with the second Test and the nature of how we lost," he recalls. "We were going so well and to cough it up was disappointing.
"But I had a great summer and I went to New York with a few of the lads after that.
"It was a tense ending to the season from Munster's point of view last term. We needed to win those last two games to guarantee Europe.
"I was doing my Masters last year. I had a lot exams and deadlines to meet - the Masters finished up in May. It was a tough month for me, but it is as tough as you make it.
"You have got your priorities right. Munster was No 1 and everything looks after itself after that.
"I grew up coming through the academy system here and schools. I have playing with Munster a long time. I know the importance of Europe. It's what Munster pride themselves on and I certainly didn't want to be a part of a team that got us out of Europe."
Munster salvaged their Pro12 campaign with a 27-19 win over Edinburgh and a 31-15 final-day hammering of Scarlets. That set them up for a pool that includes Leicester Tigers, Racing Metro and Glasgow Warriors in the Champions Cup. And Kilcoyne knows it will be tough.
"It's easy to say things are clicking but if you look through the games. . . we got a good result at the weekend, but Dragons were a little unlucky at the end. We have a lot to improve on," he warns.
"But there was a marked improvement in attitude and physicality from Cardiff. They are two things you don't coach and they should be there every week. They weren't there against Cardiff.
"All the other things are minor things, coaching things and skills things. But if you haven't got physicality or the right attitude, you haven't got anything.
"We need to fix a lot of areas in our game, improve other areas and drive other areas if we want to improve and compete in Europe."
But the optimism around Munster is palpable at the moment. Despite their defeat at home to Cardiff there were still signs that things were coming together for the two-time European champions.
"It's absolutely incredible to work here at the moment. You have got to look at the one centre," says Kilcoyne.
"We probably haven't given enough credit to the amount of work that went into it.
"We have a high performance centre now that we are based out of.
"Then you have the rugby, Rassie and Jacques have come in and given the place a new lease of life. It's a really positive place to work from. Even if you could call it work it is really enjoyable.
"With Felix there as well and 'Fla', and Axel. . . they all have something in common.
"They are all enthusiastic and hungry and that's rubbing off on the players."