Monday 23 September 2019

'Guys have to learn to take the next step' - Peter O'Mahony knows Munster must face some harsh realities


The Leinster players applaud Peter O’Mahony and his Munster team-mates off the pitch after Saturday’s semi-finalhis. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
The Leinster players applaud Peter O’Mahony and his Munster team-mates off the pitch after Saturday’s semi-finalhis. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Cian Tacey

It's just over two years since Johnny Sexton decided to publicly criticise Leinster and their culture.

The out-half's withering assessment of how far the club had fallen since their glory days caught most people off guard, but Sexton quite clearly felt that it needed to be said.

The work that has been done in the meantime has been nothing short of remarkable as the province now stand on the precipice of achieving an historic double.

Sexton's ballsy comments may have upset some people within the club but there is no doubt that it proved to be a real seminal moment for Leinster.

On Saturday, following yet another semi-final defeat, it felt like Peter O'Mahony was on the verge of doing something similar.


The Munster captain didn't quite take the same harsh approach as his Ireland team-mate, but the hurt and the pure raw emotion with which he spoke brought back memories of Sexton's honest take on matters.

In truth, Munster need to learn a few harsh realities and behind the scenes, you can be sure that the likes of O'Mahony will be driving that point home.

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A one-point defeat to Leinster in their own back yard is certainly nothing to be ashamed of, but when you factor in the number of changes that they made, the key personnel they were without, and also the fact that they were nowhere near their best, Munster will feel that this was one they left behind them.

"We've got to be better," O'Mahony insisted. "You look at the standard that Leinster are setting. We've got to improve across the board. There are a huge amount of positives to take out of what we have done over the last 12 to 18 months.

"But guys have got to understand that we have to take another step in a couple of aspects of our game.

"As I said already, the good thing is that a lot of them are stuff you can improve on, I wouldn't say quite quickly but they can be improved on.

"The lads will always fight until the end, which is something you can't change in someone, you know?

"You're never far away but the last few steps are the hardest ones to take and we have got to start to learn how to take them."

A big summer lies ahead for Johann van Graan, who considering he only joined Munster mid-season, has done a fine job.

The South African is the first to admit that it has very much been a gradual process in terms of putting his stamp on the team and how they play. Closing the gap to Leinster is not going to be an easy task however.

"I think their basics are something that makes them stand out," O'Mahony said of Munster's arch rivals. "Their set-piece, their kicking game. It's a simple game-plan but it's incredibly hard to get the ball off them.

"I'd imagine their stats for knock-ons and turnovers is very, very low. They just do basic rugby very, very well and execute excellently.

"They've a huge amount of leadership and a huge amount of international rugby players who've a huge amount of experience and that helps as well.

"But I think their basics are the difference between them and the next few teams."

Another trophy-less season for Munster, but there have been enough positives throughout both campaigns to suggest that they will be better again next year. What will be a major immediate concern though, is how badly their skill levels plummeted when under pressure at the RDS.

Time and time again, the ball went to the deck as sloppy passing and unforced errors stifled any sort of momentum.

O'Mahony shouldered the blame for his decision to kick for the corner and not the posts when 13-8 down with 12 minutes remaining, and while it is easy to look back on that crucial moment with the benefit of hindsight, even at the time, it felt like the wrong call.

"We created a lot of opportunities, especially in the first half but our accuracy let us down," Van Graan admitted.

"It's not something that you fix overnight. We had a big two weeks in terms of training and I think it showed out there today. I think it was a much-improved performance from our side but it's (passing) something that we need to improve.

"I thought we put the best team in Europe under pressure until the last second of the game.

"The management and the players have been very open from the first day that I joined. We all know that we need to take Munster forward. We've identified quite a few areas in our game that we want to move forward.

"I think the important thing for us as a squad was we wanted to be better than we played in the previous semi-final and I believe we certainly did.

"The previous semi-final ended with a five-point gap and this one ended with a one-point gap.

"Obviously we want to improve our skill set first. We want to build our squad and the most important thing is we've got to play home semi-finals.

"I think that's the biggest difference. You only have to look at Leinster, they've played two home semi-finals and that makes a massive difference.

"So we need to get to home semi-finals to give us a shot to get to a final and hopefully win it."

And so there was to be no fairytale ending for Simon Zebo's Munster career as he packs his bags for Paris.

The Cork native was the last to leave the RDS pitch and was given a great ovation by both sets of supporters.

"He's obviously a world-class player," Van Graan added. "He's a player who has left a big mark, not only on Munster Rugby but Irish Rugby. He's a team man. We will miss his smile. He will be missed at Munster."

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