Saturday 17 August 2019

Alan Quinlan: 'Leinster in need of some pain relief but Van Graan’s side need win to lift air of doom and gloom'

Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Sportsfile
Alan Quinlan

Alan Quinlan

There are few things that focus the minds of rugby players better than knockout rugby, and for very different reasons this do-or-die derby will come as a welcome distraction for both sides today.

There will have been a cloud of grief hovering around Leinster's UCD base this week. The most difficult challenge professional sport throws at you is having to deal with the harrowing feeling that follows a fall at the final hurdle.

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

Leinster, albeit operating in a different competition, are desperately seeking Champions Cup pain relief. But for Munster, after some underwhelming performances and overwhelming coaching turbulence, this game is even more important.

Johann van Graan's side have failed to play well in three successive games of knockout rugby, despite winning two of them, but in the context of this team, and their progress in real terms, a result at the RDS this afternoon would transform the mood among the Munster faithful.

If they fail to turn over the reigning PRO14 champions on their home patch, it will be another bitter pill to swallow. But at the same time, it should not cause panic stations.

While perspective may not be sexy, it's important, particularly at times like this. Munster supporters want to see progress and they are desperate for silverware but those transformations rarely happen overnight.

It has been Van Graan's first full season in charge so he is going to be judged on the body of work that his side have produced, and rightly so.

Munster's Champions Cup campaign of 2018/'19 resembled the season preceding it – similar numbers and a semi-final exit on foreign soil against an excellent side.

International Rugby Newsletter

Rugby insights and commentary from our renowned journalists like Neil Francis, Will Slattery, Alan Quinlan & Cian Tracey.

But in the PRO14, Munster have improved markedly, and this should not be ignored if today's result doesn't go their way.

It's nearly nine months since Munster began this PRO14 campaign with a 38-0 destruction of the Cheetahs – all of the hard work that has been put in between then and now remains relevant when assessing the bigger picture.

In the regular season, Munster won 16 of their 21 games, three more than the previous campaign; scored 44 more points; four more tries; and finished with 77 competition points, the second highest across both conferences and eight more than last season.

In can be difficult to measure real progress in sport but those figures illustrate that strides forward have been taken this season; the important thing is to not only remember that, but for Munster to keep building on it, ideally with a quality coaching ticket in the next campaign.

I was disappointed to see that Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery would be leaving their roles at the end of the season.

They've been great servants to the province in various different guises over the years, and they are deeply passionate about Munster rugby.

It's hard to know where the negotiations broke down as these things are kept private, but the timing of the change is bad for both coaches and the club.

Van Graan knows too that if Munster's season were to end with a whimper, he will likely find himself in the crosshairs considering the run of bad news on and off the field. He's the head coach and the buck stops with him.

Munster fans will be on edge no matter how this PRO14 campaign concludes, so the sooner an announcement can be made around next season's coaching ticket, ideally with at least one name that can get supporters excited, the better.

It's hard enough to get one quality coach at this time of the year – even more so with a World Cup around the corner – never mind the three that Van Graan wants to add to his backroom team.

It's a tricky situation, there will naturally be an urgency to get the coaching ticket finalised but at the same time you don't want to rush in to making appointments and risk making an incorrect and costly decision that might halt progress.

As a Munster man, I am desperate to see this group of players end the eight-year trophy drought, something that no one would have envisaged when the likes of Ronan O'Gara, ‘Bull' Hayes, Paul O'Connell, Dougie Howlett and David Wallace helped the province to the 2010/'11 Celtic League crown.

Yet as a former Munster player, I can't help but sympathise with the current crop. The expectations are so high and it's unfair to judge this 2018/'19 edition on teams of more than a decade ago.

Many of my generation began a long road to European glory in 1997, losing two quarter-finals, three semi-finals and two finals before eventually getting over the line 13 years ago.

We were rarely criticised for coming up short time and again in Europe, more often than not we were patted on the back for getting as far as we did.

A daunting task awaits against a bitter rival who are dangerous whatever their mood, even more so when they have recently been wounded by a devastating defeat.

This will be fierce and could well boil over at times.

Leinster are hurting but Munster need this more. Dethroning their old foes at the RDS would not only earn them plenty of plaudits and bring them within one victory of silverware, it would also be the ideal way to clear the gloom.

The Throw-In All-Ireland Hurling Final preview: Can Tipp's firepower edge clash with the Cats?

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport