Monday 18 March 2019

'Competition makes you a better player and it's tough here'

Big Interview: Stephen Archer

Stephen Archer is the picture of concentration in training. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Archer is the picture of concentration in training. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

In 2002, Neil Back became the ultimate villain for Munster fans when he contributed to the province's downfall in the European Cup final.

Munster had a scrum just five metres from the Leicester Tigers line with time running out; moments later the danger had been cleared and Munster's chances evaporated in a 15-9 loss.

Peter Stringer fed the ball into the scrum on the opposite side to French referee Joel Jutge, Back slapped the ball down in Leicester's favour as they claimed possession and hearts were broken for the second time in three years.

Munster would go on to secure European Cups in 2006 and '08, but tighthead prop Stephen Archer will never forget May 25, 2002, when he travelled to Cardiff with his father Martin.

"It was a really enjoyable day before that. We were going over, my dad and a gang of his buddies used to go over. The atmosphere was class. It was electric in the Millennium Stadium," recalls Archer.

"Then Neil Back put his hand in the scrum and wrecked our day. We were absolutely sickened after. I was in the other side so I saw it on the screen on the replay.

"I had the head down for a few days after that. The old man put the arm around me after to tell me it was alright, that it is only a game. I was pretty gutted at the time. But these are great experiences.

"If anyone of us had that opportunity in a big final today, and we thought we could get away with it, we would definitely do it. I wouldn't blame Back for that."

Stephen Archer in action against Glasgow Warriors. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Archer in action against Glasgow Warriors. Photo: Sportsfile

Having his family there for the big occasions is clearly important to Archer, who has been showing some of his best ever form in the red shirt this season.

"My old man still goes to the matches and I am sure he gets a good thrill out of seeing me playing the big European matches.

"He has been at the other European Cup finals that we won but hopefully he will see me out there winning one some day. But we will see what happens."

Debut

The 31-year-old Cork native made his Munster senior debut in 2009 against Edinburgh in Murrayfield. Since then he has amassed 179 appearances, and scored three tries, between the league and Europe.

This season's 18 outings in 20 games is a club high as he continues to battle with fellow tighthead John Ryan.

"Competition makes you a better player. It's tough competition with John here. I don't know whether I enjoy it because I would like to be first choice the whole time and I am sure he would say the same thing," says Archer.

"It keeps you on your toes. You just need to keep the head down and perform every day in training. Hopefully then you get the nod in matches.

"When you get to those matches you have to perform or you will be taken off early and maybe you won't be playing the next day. We are definitely kept on our toes the whole time.

"We are both the same age, we are into our 30s, and with a tighthead the scrum is the most important thing.

"Our scrum has gone pretty well this year. It is something we are always looking to improve. Coming to the back end of the season it is really important for us, being the cornerstone of our game; we need to have that right.

"Set-piece is always huge for Munster, winning clean ball at the line-outs and gaining penalties off scrums and mauls. It's just part and parcel of our game. And it's one of the cornerstones coming into the knockout stages.

"These are big matches and it's important that we deliver good ball going forward."

Munster succumbed to PRO14 and Champions Cup semi-final heartbreak last year when Leinster and Racing 92 ended their involvements at the penultimate stages.

But the addition of Ireland internationals Joey Carbery and Tadhg Beirne has seemingly added an extra edge for a province crying out for silverware at senior level.

The wait goes on, with their last senior trophy coming as far back as 2011. Munster defeated Leinster in the PRO14 final at Thomond Park with Archer an unused replacement on the day.

"It does seem a bit different this season but last year we had the quality as well," says Archer.

"Hopefully the year will turn out a bit different. If you look around the squad there are so many good players. It just shows that there is a good strong squad here.

"If you want to compete and win silverware you need around 40 lads who are able to play. When guys are injured the next one up has to be able to do the job as well."

Archer has played twice internationally but he failed to make the cut for Ireland's Six Nations training camp in Portugal and that was another big opportunity missed.

"I was a bit disappointed. Myself and John Ryan have been in and out, swapping positions all season. He is getting the nod with international honours at the moment," adds Archer.

"It is disappointing but you can't do much about it. Just keep the head down and keep trucking."

And while the Six Nations takes a break this weekend Archer and his Munster team-mates will be determined to keep the province's winning run going.

Narrow

Johann van Graan's men had to grind out narrow victories over Exeter Chiefs and Dragons in their most recent fixtures, but prior to that they were able to put up some massive scorelines.

Munster have won five in a row before they clash with Southern Kings in Cork this evening. They will hope to add another win to the list to remain top of Conference A in the PRO14.

"It's a home match. We are a lot higher ranked than them in the league. We are hoping to get the win but it's all about the performance," says Archer.

"A lot of players are looking forward to getting back on the pitch. And it's great for me to come back to Cork and play in front my friends and family at home.

"We have a three-game block here now and if we can win three matches we will hopefully be able to consolidate our place at the top of the league, before the real business end of the season."

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