Wednesday 13 December 2017

Don't play down the challenge we face

James Cronin and Billy Holland stop Connacht’s Rory Parata in his tracks during Munster’s Pro12 win at the Sportsground on New Year’s Eve. Photo: Sportsfile
James Cronin and Billy Holland stop Connacht’s Rory Parata in his tracks during Munster’s Pro12 win at the Sportsground on New Year’s Eve. Photo: Sportsfile

Jacques Nienaber

Without a Pro12 game to prepare for in January, all focus has switched to our busy Champions Cup schedule, but we are pretty happy with the work we completed over the Christmas period.

It was certainly a unique holiday period for me and my family. In South Africa, we have no rugby during Christmas, but after we welcomed the Erasmus family over for our traditional 'braai' barbecue, both Rassie and I quickly switched back to work mode in preparation for our game with Leinster on St Stephen's Day. We don't know how to cook turkey and ham yet, but I'm sure we'll pick it up in the years to come.

When we last played Leinster in the Aviva we saw some things that we needed to work on. They're a quality side with a really good skill-set. You can see they are well coached, they have massive depth and are very confident. So it was nice to see how our players have grown from where they were ten weeks back. Two months later the confidence that we have defensively is important to the way we play.

That defensive confidence showed in Galway last weekend too, but I think what set it up for us was having scoreboard pressure.

Ahead of that game I thought the team that could score a try would be the team that would be in the dominant position. Defensively you have to keep the other team out, but I think the big challenge was to get over the try line. They came close in the first half with that kick through, but we took our chances.

This week has been all about a return to Champions Cup against Racing 92, but also about how we hope to honour the memory of Axel. Obviously internally as a team we are honouring him every week in our own personal way. It is something that we as a unit decided way back then when he passed away. We are honouring him in our own personal way week in, week out, with a certain commitment that we have made.

People would say it is a big thing for us going back there this week, but every game for us is big in terms of what happened. From the beginning Rassie said it: It was not about putting in a brilliant performance in the Glasgow game, for us it was about honouring him and still honouring him.


With any death, life goes on, and you have to go on. But for Axel's family, his wife and his kids, and players that played with and for him from an early age, their loss never stops. It continues every day. Olive still misses her husband and his kids still miss their father. For us that is a big thing, it is a personal thing within the team that we try and honour him daily and weekly with our performance.

As coaches, we have a responsibility to prepare the team as well as we can for this game, and Racing are a quality side.

Against Toulon at the weekend, both teams had a big go at each other. It was anybody's game.

I think they are very strong set-piece-wise; they have one of the best scrums in the Top14; they contest well at the lineout; they have ball-carriers all over the field; they have an experienced 9 and 10 that can control the game; and a back three that are incredible strike runners. They are a team that can absolutely rip you apart.

The biggest mistake one can make is to look at where they are in the table. They are a quality side and sometimes a poor run of results can be turned around in an instant to ten wins on the trot.

It will be a real challenge for us tomorrow, but we are confident that we have the plans put in place to be in contention to take a positive result from the game.

Irish Independent

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