Building on Euro heroics my wish for the new year
The Munster legacy in the Heineken Cup is such a strong one -- over the years the province has been synonymous with the competition -- it is nice for this group to add their own little paragraph to that history.
After winning back-to-back games against Perpignan, this squad can take huge pride from the fact that they have added some real value to Munster's reputation. The belief they have taken out of achieving a victory like that was terrific.
The pillars of that win were the likes of Paul O'Connell, Donnacha Ryan, James Coughlan, Felix Jones and Damien Varley. They are more experienced than the rest, but for the other guys it's great that they are formulating their own positive experiences in the competition.
Unless you've been around Paul O'Connell and the Munster environment it's hard to appreciate the influence that he has. He drives the Munster legacy into these young blokes -- they embrace him and embrace his attitude.
He is such an important person in relation to passing down the Munster spirit.
So, when you look across the two games, it was striking how many of the younger players stepped forward and embraced that spirit. Stephen Archer, David Kilcoyne, James Cronin, Duncan Casey, Tommy O'Donnell, Johne Murphy and Sean Dougall were all terrific.
Cathal Sheridan was excellent. Conor Murray, who is a young man himself, leaves big boots to fill, but Cathal came in and did such a great job for us. And Keats and JJ both stepped up into Ronan O'Gara's massive shoes. Whoever wears that jersey is always slightly burdened with Rog's legacy, but they both are doing it admirably.
And I thought Peter O'Mahony gave another huge performance. He is a young leader and this is his first year in captaincy, but he is having a massive impact.
It was a step into the unknown from a lot of our perspectives, but they really have grabbed it with both hands and shown they are quality footballers.
The fact that we are doing this without ROG and Doug Howlett, two historically important members of our squad, is vital. To lose that much experience and talent and still put themselves in the positions they did in the last two games is a great credit to the boys.
But all of our good work in recent weeks won't mean too much if we don't back it up over this next block of three Pro12 games.
Already we've had success against Cardiff, Dragons and Ospreys this year, so a win over Scarlets would give us the Welsh quadruple. But after that we have the two local derby matches -- Connacht is always really tough for us and that will be followed by a really difficult trip to Ravenhill to face Ulster.
Scarlets are probably not quite where they were last year in terms of their results, but they are performing just as well, if not better. Perhaps they have not had the luck at times, but they are a very dangerous side. Against Scarlets, and in the next few games, we will be without some of our boys as the IRFU player welfare programme kicks in. But looking at it positively, this is a real opportunity for other guys to come in and push their claims for Heineken Cup down the track. Make an impact in these three games and who knows what could happen?
Despite the festive season being upon us, Christmas promises to be a pretty busy period for me. I'll be working pretty much straight through, with a little bit of downtime here and there.
My family has gone back to New Zealand, but I'll still be sharing Christmas Day with a couple of Kiwis here. The Laulala family have invited me to spend the day with them and the Howletts, which is really lovely.
I think it is great for Casey that he has gotten the chance to experience rugby in another country and environment. He has been a really great player for Munster and has been a key part in our development. We wish him all the best and he leaves with everyone's blessing, he will leave a big gap.
Dougie has recently been appointed as an ambassador for Munster Rugby, but he still looks in great shape. He looks like he could play again -- obviously we won't pull him out of the hat as a medical joker -- but he is in incredible shape. He was a great help for me when I arrived. He's probably more red than black now, having come to Munster from the All Blacks -- he's so engrained in the Munster community. I'm delighted that he has come out of the game and into a role he is passionate about.
I would like to wish a very Happy Christmas to all the Munster Rugby family. Three wins would be a terrific way to face the New Year.