Sunday 19 November 2017

World Cup hopeful refusing to settle for second best

Corkman eager to leapfrog Botha in tighthead pecking order after lift of new three-year deal

Stephen Archer has set his sights on establishing himself as first-choice No 3 with the Reds
Stephen Archer has set his sights on establishing himself as first-choice No 3 with the Reds

Declan Rooney

Munster's European Champions Cup campaign might be over for the season, but Stephen Archer still has plenty of targets to hit before the summer.

The tighthead prop is keen as anyone to add another Guinness Pro12 winner's medal to his collection.

He wants to impress for Munster and force his way back into Joe Schmidt's thoughts ahead of the World Cup, but he knows his first job is to become the first-choice No 3 in Munster.

Archer and BJ Botha are close in the appearance charts this year. The South African has featured 18 times for Munster and Archer 16, but the Corkman trails well behind when the game-time is totted up (977 to 504 minutes).

Archer knows where he stands too and he points to his one Champions Cup start from six games as the real telling factor.

"Unfortunately, he is first choice all right, though myself and BJ would probably have similar enough appearances this year. If you look at the matches he has played in, a lot of them have been the big European games and there are the ones I am targeting," he says.

"You would be kidding yourself saying it is 50/50 between us, but I have had good outings against quality teams like Leinster now. Hopefully by the end of the season I would get ahead of him.

"It is easier said than done when you are scrapping with a World Cup winner from South Africa, but that is the target anyway, to get ahead of BJ and the other guys there as well.

"Johnny Ryan has been playing loosehead for the last while, but with 'Killer' (Dave Kilcoyne) and Jamesie Cronin back fit he will probably be in contention for tighthead too.

"There will be good competition for places. Hopefully I will get onto the pitch in the next few weeks and try and put my hand up," said Archer, who recently turned 27.

In fairness to him, it is far from fanciful that he could overtake Botha as first choice. His progress was hit towards the end of last season and the previous season because of injury, and it is only the last few months that we have seen Archer back to his best.

Munster, too, have recognised that and the award of a new three-year contract was just the vote of confidence he needed.

SECURITY

"I'm am delighted, it's brilliant, three years it is a lot of security for any rugby player," he says.

"For me it was an easy decision. I love playing for Munster - growing up it was a dream come true playing for Munster. Then getting a three-year deal meant it was a no-brainer.

"I am just delighted, and getting it done early in the season allows me to crack on with the rugby. I don't need to be thinking about things off-field now.

"Frankie Sheahan is my agent and he did all the leg-work for me. With my age profile it is good for both of us. Both parties were happy enough to get a long-term deal.

"Going into the season I had a disc problem, and in pre-season I was thinking 'how is this going?', but the management were very good to me and got me back playing. They put me in slowly enough and allowed my confidence levels to rise.

"It is great now, though, and I am delighted to be back on the pitch. I am trying to build up for a crescendo for the end of the season."

That neck injury kept him out from March until the start of pre-season.

The previous year he also missed out touring with Ireland or Emerging Ireland because of a dislocated bone in his wrist.

After being recalled to the Irish set-up for the November Series, Archer had hoped to make the cut for the Six Nations, but in the end he expected to be left out.

"I was part of the November Series but unfortunately didn't play in the matches," he says.

"When I didn't play a few of the big European matches with Saracens and Clermont I knew that there were fellas who were playing the big ones. Marty Moore and Mike Ross were playing (for Leinster) so I knew I wasn't going to be involved.

"That is the way it is, I had a chat with Joe Schmidt about it. He was on to me, he is straight up in fairness. He tells you what to improve on and it is just a matter of getting out on the field now and hopefully putting your hand up down the line."

So it all starts for Archer and Co at Irish Independent Park tomorrow evening against Cardiff.

Having the newly-developed stadium in Cork is vital for the game on Leeside, he says, but he has noticed a buzz about the place in recent weeks despite the early European exit.

"I know it was a dead rubber, but after the Sale match in Thomond Park, it was nice travelling home to Cork. I headed off fairly soon after the game with Donncha O'Callaghan, but it didn't take long for us to get stuck in traffic and it was like that all the way through Buttevant and Mallow," he recalls.

"The traffic part wasn't great, but seeing all the Munster support there was. We were delighted to see the Cork supporter is alive and kicking. We deserve a good showing over the next few weeks and hopefully we can deliver it.

"We have had a lot of review meetings in Irish Independent Park and we have seen the developments in there over the past couple of months. The pitch looks great and there is always a good atmosphere.

"It will be great to get back there and hopefully give the Cork crowd a few performances and victories."

Irish Independent

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