'Buy-in' the key factor in a successful defence
Last Saturday I was at the Ireland versus England game at the Aviva Stadium, and it was a really enjoyable experience.
While I didn't watch the Six Nations in too much detail, I scanned across some games and I will dissect it a bit deeper when our own season ends. I'll do the same with the Rugby Championship.
I have a good idea what Ireland are trying to do in defence: I speak to Andy Farrell regularly and we are pretty much aligned in what we are both trying to achieve. I thought Ireland were very good, aggressive off the line. They were spot on in terms of what I think Andy is trying to achieve.
As a defensive coach, you are always on the look-out for new ideas. Unfortunately, I don't get to see too much Super Rugby now, but I normally do an intensive analysis on World Cups and Lions tours.
During the 2015 World Cup, I studied all the Tier 1 games, especially from the quarter-finals onwards. I analysed every team and looked at their defence and attack to see what might have changed.
I do the same with the Lions tour, which is similar to a northern hemisphere versus southern hemisphere competition. That gives you an idea of what's happening in world rugby because you have all the top players playing at the peak of their game. That way you see whatever is new in defence and attack.
As I said, the Ireland and Munster systems are well-aligned, but whatever defensive structure a team employs, in my opinion the most important thing is buy-in. It sounds funny - you can come with line-speed but if the players don't believe in the plan and don't feel comfortable with it, it won't be successful no matter what you do.
You have to find what your players are capable of, what they want to do and build on that. You can have attitude in a drift defence or in an up-and-in defence, but you never succeed without buy-in.
The main aim of a defence is to apply pressure on you opponents' attack. With a drift defence you apply pressure through numbers, and with a rush defence you apply pressure with line-speed. But the aim is always to apply pressure.
While we have had a successful season so far as we are within touching distance of the top of the Pro12 and will soon play a Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulouse, we are always keen to improve as a team - in defence and attack.
With that in mind, I had a look at some of our footage from the season to see if there was a common trend in how we are conceding tries. I also had a look at the B&I Cup games too - I don't coach that team but many of our players have played there this season, so I wanted to see if there were any mistakes made regularly and if there was a trend in Munster currently. It was more of a system review for us; I wanted to identify any system errors that were popping up.
And after that we spent some time working on a couple of trends that I had identified. We had a video session last Wednesday and we then went on to rectifying those issues. It was a fantastic couple of days for us, in terms of touching up on something that we could improve. We want to get success out of the next couple of weeks.
While we have picked up a couple of injuries with Dave Foley and Jean Kleyn being ruled out for the rest of the season, the arrival of Jean Deysel is a good thing for Munster. I coached against him several times, and actually coached him in 2011 when he was involved with the Springboks.
He is a good player, and I think he will fit in nicely in the Munster set-up. He is a versatile player: he is a good lineout jumper; he is a good ball-carrier; he's a good defender. He is competitive and is very eager for hard work. He will be an asset for Munster, that's for sure.
We won't see him in time for the Zebre game, but that will be an interesting challenge for us. Ospreys played them recently and at half-time it was 10-7 for Zebre. When Wasps played them it was only 16-13 at half-time. For some reason they are really tough to play in Italy. We haven't been there as a coaching team, so we have to ask why that it. Are there some external factors there?
They are battle-hardened with ten internationals coming back after some big games at Test intensity, and they are a team that plays without fear. They play an attractive brand of rugby and they have a lot to play for as a team. This will be a significant challenge for us.