Thursday 14 November 2019

'Munster reminds me of playing back home in New Zealand' - Alby Mathewson

Alby Mathewson. Photo: Sportsfile
Alby Mathewson. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Reputations were damaged during Ireland's World Cup campaign but reputations will still endure as the provinces prepare to ramp up their campaigns.

Which is why Munster will restore some of their internationals for tomorrow's visit of Ulster, a match sparking an accelerating end-of-year schedule which will see them complete four of their European Cup pool games.

"International players who rightly deserve their place will come in," noted assistant coach Stephen Larkham this week. But should that apply indiscriminately?

Conor Murray, for example, may not be repatriated so soon. Despite restoring some semblance of form, the scrum-half's performance levels, like many of his international colleagues, dipped appreciably in Japan.

And Alby Mathewson, as he has done consistently since extending his initial short-term deal with the club, has been playing masterfully and with the width and tempo Larkham's expansive ideas require.

Trouble is, the 33-year-old is unlikely to be in this country in a month's time. His contract renewal is imminent and with five other Irish scrum-halves on the taxi rank, he will be forced to book a ride out of town.

It's the right decision for Irish rugby in the long-term - whether it is the right decision for Munster Rugby in the short-term remains to be seen.

Johann van Graan, still inwardly seething at the prospect of being without the damaged Joey Carbery for weeks, if not months, could be minded to tell IRFU HQ where to go when they tell Mathewson when to go.

He won't, of course.

And so time ticks down for Mathewson, whose influence has grown even more this term as he and the likes of JJ Hanrahan demonstrate that there are more strings to Munster's bow than the 'Boks-kick'.

As Ireland must evolve, so too one of its primary constituents. Some might think Mathewson is flattering to earn a reprieve but he is piqued by the transformation in style.

"It reminds me of playing back home in New Zealand," says the 33-year-old.

"It's a southern hemisphere style, I suppose. We put in a lot of work in pre-season to get to play like this.

"Maybe it could look a bit loose to the untrained eye but it's the way we have trained throughout the pre-season.

"It's nice to see what you've done and having been able to put it into practice in matches is rewarding for us as players and, obviously, it's good for the fans to see as well.

"Everything is different for the returning players. Even the terminology from Munster last year has changed.

"They're coming off their Irish terminology and the different styles of play, also."

Currow native Hanrahan, once cowed by the restrictive game-plan, has enjoyed a restorative time as he prepares to jostle with Tyler Bleyendaal for the pivot's shirt.


"I've always enjoyed playing with JJ," Mathewson enthuses. "Last year in Treviso, we had to win to qualify for a home quarter-final in the Pro14 and that was basically the team that played Cardiff away last weekend.

"It was a tough situation over there to get the bonus point but we did so. JJ and I have a good relationship off the field.

"We're always chatting. What do you see here? What do you see there? We can play off each, we recognise how each other play.

"You strike up a bond and you want to play well for them and vice versa."

The pity for him is that bond will be broken before it can strengthen even more.

Irish Independent

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