The waiting is over as we face tough away start
Published 02/09/2016 | 02:30
It might seem like a long time since I was named as the new director of rugby for Munster Rugby, but the two months have flown by for me since I arrived and it is hard to believe that we are just one day away from our first game of the season.
I have to say that everyone in Limerick and the province of Munster has been most welcoming to me and my family since we moved here this summer. Setting up base in a new country can be a little bit daunting for everyone involved, but all of the locals have made the transition as smooth as possible for us. It is much appreciated.
That warm reception I was shown probably comes from the love that our supporters have for Munster Rugby.
We all want to see the province back at the top of the tree of Irish and European rugby and the hope is that we can get there in the seasons ahead.
What I have seen in the last ten weeks or so in training is very encouraging. We are blessed to have a number of world-class players at our disposal and the quality of younger players coming through is a real boost too. The attitude of the players on and off the pitch has been first-class and they have really embraced the game plan that we are trying to implement.
It will be slow progress, but I hope to see some really good results and performances in the coming weeks.
When I was awarded the position of director of rugby here in Munster I was keen to bring Jacques Nienaber over here too. Jacques is someone I know well and have worked with for many years, and already the players have responded excellently to his defensive plans and methods.
It was pleasing to see the boys defending so well for the most of the game against Worcester last weekend, and once we made a few changes it was inevitable that there would be a little disruption later in the game where we conceded a couple of tries.
But already at Munster there has been excellent foundations laid by some brilliant coaches in recent years.
Working alongside Anthony Foley since I got here has been a great experience. He was a super player and is a top-class coach and I think he is enjoying a bit more time with the players so far.
Jerry Flannery is another fine coach who has achieved so much on the pitch with Munster and Ireland, but he has put in some great work with our scrum in the last few weeks.
And as someone who has recently retired from the game as a player, Felix Jones has given us a great insight into the squad, while he is also putting in some very good work with our backs.
As a unit, I am very happy with our coaching team.
Last weekend's win over Worcester Warriors at Irish Independent Park was a pleasing night for all of us.
We were most happy with the performance in the first half, when we scored four good tries. But we defended solidly as a team, kicked the ball well through Tyler Bleyendaal and Ian Keatley, and also had a first look at players like Jean Kleyn, Alex Wootton and Dan Goggin.
On the night everyone got some game-time and I have been very pleased with the impact we have gotten from the bench. That's something that I hope to see continue into the Pro12 season.
But another thing was notable from last Saturday's game. Munster's most capped player came back to face his team for the first time, and the welcome and thanks shown to Donncha O'Callaghan was remarkable. He has given 14 seasons of dedication to the red shirt, so to see that respect tells me what Munster's supporters are all about.
And I'm sure that driving force will be firmly behind the team when we come back to Cork next weekend, but for now our aim is to start the new season off with a win at Parc Y Scarlets in Wales.
In preparing for this game I have become well aware of the difficulty of this fixture, so we have left no stone unturned in the aim of getting four points.
Last season a late penalty denied Munster in this fixture, but we also saw great character from the boys in the final game of the season at Thomond Park when they needed to win to qualify for the Champions Cup.
While we will have to plan for this game without some of our international players, I still feel that we have the talent available to win here. It will be a very difficult game, a big step up in intensity from our pre-season games, but the work has been done.
We're ready for the new season ahead.