IrishRugby.ie caught up this week with Munster team manager Shaun Payne to get his thoughts on Sunday’s Magners League showdown between Leinster and Munster at the RDS.
IrishRugby.ie: Shaun, it has been a bright start to the season for Munster, but it was a defeat to Leinster last season that ended your hopes of Magners League glory, so Sunday’s game is a big clash.
Shaun Payne: Let’s be completely honest…any clash with Leinster is an important clash, whether we won the last four in a row or lost the last four in a row.
It’s one that always jumps out off the fixtures sheet, especially for the players, be it home or away. Especially the fact that we did lose twice to them last season – that doesn’t sit too well with the lads. There’s a lot of pride at stake, to be honest.
IR: It does add an extra edge, though, the fact that your recent record against them hasn’t been great?
SP: Of course it does, of course. We are a very proud team, they are a very proud team. It adds a massive edge to it, to be completely honest. I have been here five or six seasons now and it has always been the one fixture that stood out.
IR: Did you notice that when you came over first as a Munster player and now obviously as a member of the management team?
SP: I think my very first game, in fact, for Munster was against Leinster if I am not mistaken, down at Donnybrook.
IR: What year was that in?
SP: Please don’t ask me questions like that (laughs!) That was five seasons ago now. We just ‘snuck’ away with a win. It was right at the beginning of the season, and it was my first competitive game for them.
From then, every single game against them, it’s in the psyche. Once you finish the game the week before, straight away the team will be switching into ‘we are playing against Leinster’ mode.
That would be the same for the Leinster boys. It always has been a massive fixture, and I have picked it up off the boys. Even before the professional era, the rivalry was there. You wouldn’t want it any other way, to be completely honest.
IR: Did you have other rivalries like that with other clubs you’ve played with?
SP: Absolutely. Swansea-Neath is a massive one. When I was with the Sharks, we had the Sharks and the Stormers in Cape Town. We thought they were…well, I won’t tell you what we thought of them, but it was a massive rivalry.
IR: Is Munster and Leinster similar in that regard?
SP: Absolutely. All over the world, you have these games. And it is often the fellas you know the best that you want to beat the most. It’s a local thing, it’s about pride and bragging rights, basically, at the end of the day.
IR: What about playing at the RDS? Are the lads used to playing there now?
SP: To be honest, we haven’t had a lot of success at the RDS. Both seasons now that we have played them, we have lost at the RDS, whereas we have had a little bit more success down the road at Donnybrook.
The RDS has definitely been a bit of a fortress for Leinster. They have performed particularly well up there. It adds a bit of extra spice as well the fact that we haven’t won there.
IR: Just about the bright start to the season, what have you made of the opening three games for Munster?
SP: Very positive. The fact that we have managed to win 14 out of 15 points has been excellent. We had a tough opener against Edinburgh. The Dragons, by their own admission, were pretty poor against us. But we, obviously, still managed to put them away, and put them away nicely.
Cardiff, I thought, to me, that has been by far the best game so far. They are very strong and they played very well. We were down 17-7 just after half-time and we showed a bit of character to come back and get a bonus point.
And they were what I would consider to be a very good Cardiff side. So, out of the first three games, the last one was by far the best performance we put up.
I really think we have shifted up a gear this year as well. The squad is stronger than last season. We have developed the squad quite nicely over the last three or four seasons, particularly when you look at the backs.
When I first came into Munster, there wasn’t a massive choice amongst the backs in terms of depth. Now, almost every single lad on the back-line is fighting for his position.
IR: What do you think will be the key areas on Sunday?
SP: It will be decided up front. It’s going to be a massive battle up front, and in the set piece. With the ELVs, there has been a little bit of – I wouldn’t say inconsistency of refereeing at the ruck – but it’s been a bit difficult to actually know what the new rule is.
We need to get those right, and discipline as well, we can’t be giving away needless penalties. That would be a big thing.
IR: There is a lot of rotation this year in the Munster squad?
SP: The start has been slightly different this season than in previous seasons in that we have had all the internationals available from Magners League Round 1. Obviously, with the squad we have got and the depth of squad we have got, there is not a massive gap between the fellas that are playing and the fellas that aren’t playing.
To be honest, we can play everyone through the first batch of eight games. There has been a lot of rotation.
The evidence is there that each team that has been picked so far has been no weaker than the team before – they have been of equal standard. That’s a massive positive for us.