Kilcoyne braced for Gloucester backlash
English rivals gunning for redemption after home scrum humiliation, warns Munster prop
If rugby is essentially a sport of collision, the scrum is its cataclysmic epicentre.
And within the context of this vigorous jousting for possession and position, the ultimate indignity is not merely to accelerate in reverse, but to do so when you have more players pushing than the opposition.
It happened, so embarrassingly, when Ireland were filleted by the Wallabies in Dublin last November.
And it happened again in Kingsholm last weekend, when struggling Gloucester succumbed to a seven-man scrum in the humiliating hammering by Saracens. That the seventh man was nominally a centre -- Brad Barritt -- compounded the agony.
Their scrum will be hardened by the reintroduction of Rupert Harden and Munster expect a stinging rebuke from the shamed front-row union.
As he prepares to face a wounded side, Munster loosehead Dave Kilcoyne admits he cannot remember being in a pack that outnumbered their opponents yet still conceded ground.
He does have a memory of humility at scrum-time that he regularly accesses, however, still sufficiently painful to militate against any complacency.
"Three years ago," he deadpans. "Bristol. An 'A' game. Not the best."
Veteran former England tighthead Darren Crompton was his direct opponent; mental and physical subjugation were his indirect foes.
"Underage I think every prop goes through that at some stage," he recalls wistfully. "And we were fairly under the pump in that Bristol game.
"It is not a good place to be. But there are strong characters within this squad that have a good mental toughness, good seasoned campaigners like BJ Botha and Paulie O'Connell who, mentally, will never falter. But physically it can happen."
Even with seven -- or six and a half -- against eight?
"It can be physical, but certainly if a team is on top mentally it gets into fellas' heads," says the 25-year-old.
"Their tighthead (Harden) is back this week. They will take huge encouragement from that. I can guarantee you now Gloucester are putting huge work into their scrum. They will be expecting a huge growth in that area this week."
Kilcoyne, who earned the first of his eight Ireland caps two Novembers ago against South Africa, recollects a stern period of introspection with then scrum coach Paul McCarthy following that Bristol blowout.
"We just sat down and came up with a remedy for it," the Limerick man says simply. "You would be surprised how small adjustments to key areas can make a huge difference the following week. It was more of a technical thing that day."
As far as Gloucester are concerned, their coach, Nigel Davies, has been getting the bird of late, while a motley crew of former players -- ironically led by a front-rower who went backwards once or twice himself, Phil Vickery -- have been queuing up to lacerate the off-colour Cherry and Whites.
This week, theirs is a feeling of bitter extremes to which Munster, historically, have been more accustomed. Inevitably, one feels, they too will be better when bitter.
"Gloucester are a side not too dissimilar to us," Kilcoyne agrees. "They are a very proud side, steeped in tradition. After suffering such a bad defeat at home, they're going to be gunning this week to produce a performance to lift their home fans.
"When you have a loss that bad at home everything changes. It's all into next week's performance. There is going to be huge pressure on them this week and that adds to the pressure on us."
Despite being part of the front-row union, there is little empathy when he sees another scrum being eviscerated.
"I certainly wouldn't be feeling their pain because I know they are not going to be the same Gloucester pack that played last week!" he smiles.
"I am sure they are feeling a bit embarrassed by that loss at home. When you get a bad beating like that it hurts, it hurts the squad. You have contracts on the line. You have players' positions on the line.
"Any team who are steeped in tradition and pride like Gloucester are going to come out all guns blazing and they'll be looking to put in the performance they need to this weekend."
Kilcoyne has enough pressure -- fuelled by personal bitterness -- trying to keep James Cronin at bay; the latter loosehead provincial rival leap-frogged him in Joe Schmidt's impressions last November.
With Cian Healy's recuperation always an uncertain prospect, Kilcoyne is eager to make amends.
"I made no bones about the fact I was bitterly disappointed not to be involved in the autumn internationals," he says. "It is about how you react to those setbacks that defines you as a player.
"I am trying to do everything I can and will continue to do it to make sure I am involved in that Six Nations squad.
"I don't look to Ireland or other players. I just look to control what I can control, which is myself, and try to keep improving as much as I can as a player.
"If that comes on the back of good performances with Munster then so be it. My whole focus is on playing well with Munster and taking every opportunity I am given and seeing where I go from there."
Winning that all-important opening collision will speed him and Munster on their journey.