• Niall O'Carroll

OPINION: Injury nightmare puts Munster in a precarious position

The spectre of injury hangs over the Munster Rugby squad as they face into a season-defining trip to Paris needing to win to keep their European Cup ambitions alive. Unless JJ Hanrahan’s hamstring heals in a week, Munster appears to have no fit front line out half available after confirmation of Joey Carbery’s wrist injury.

Add to that Fineen Wycherley’s failed HIA , Tommy O Donnell’s hamstring and Tadhg Beirne’s ankle surgery and resources appear pretty stretched for the reds ahead of a hugely difficult encounter.

EPCR Heineken Champions Cup Round 4, Allianz Park London 14/12/2019 Saracens vs Munster Munster’s Fineen Wycherley Billy Holland and CJ Stander after the match Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Reading this tale of woe made me think about a study I read a short while back by Prof Jan Ekstrand and the Football Research Group in Sweden which suggested a correlation between leadership styles and a high incidence of injury in a squad of players.

Ekstrnd’s team studied 36 elite football clubs across 17 European countries over four years and found that high levels of transformational leadership were associated with smaller numbers of severe injuries.

The study suggested that the incidence of severe injuries was lower at clubs where coaches communicated a clear and positive vision, supported staff members and gave players encouragement and recognition.

It was interesting that this study identified low injury rates at clubs where staff exhibited innovation, acted as role models and fostered trust. What has this got to do with Munster’s current woes? Possibly nothing but it did make me think about other sports I have worked with and how often I have seen injuries related to the atmosphere off the pitch. Coaching behaviour has a massive impact on how teams train, how players engage with the message and how individuals deliver performance.

I am not suggesting we can lay the blame for this unfortunate run of injuries at Johann Van Graan’s door but I do find myself intrigued if maybe the culture off the field at Munster is potentially impacting on the performances on it.

It was certainly a dramatic decision to allow two coaches who were former players at the club to move on in the summer. One of whom ended up winning the World Cup with JVG’s former employers South Africa.

Heineken Champions Cup Round 3. Thomond Park, Limerick 9/12/2018 Munster vs Castres Munster Backs and Attack Coach Felix Jones with Forwards Coach Jerry Flannery Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

What did Rassie Erasmus see in Felix Jones that JVG didn’t? Maybe that is unfair and maybe Felix Jones had already decided to go but both coaches were popular figures within the squad and it certainly asked the question if everything is where it should be within the squad.

This is an opinion piece and I must point out that I have not spoken to anyone within the camp in research for this piece. I am merely drawing on my experience of working with high-performance teams.

I can only write about what I have seen as a fan of Munster Rugby and there are worrying signs that things aren’t where they should be, including the behaviour of the team doctor giving a struggling Saracens side extra motivation when Munster were in a strong position in the game.

EPCR Heineken Champions Cup Round 4, Allianz Park London 14/12/2019 Saracens vs Munster A fight breaks out Munster’s Jean Kleyn and Saracens Nick Isiekwe Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Again I point to the removal of Jones and Flannery from the environment. Munster is a unique brand and culture. What works everywhere may not work with this group. The skill of a great coach is to understand the individual needs of those in his charge and drive them towards achieving their individual goals not those of the coach.

As a fan of Munster Rugby, I will be rooting for whatever team takes the field this weekend. It will be exciting to see what impact the Academy players will have. Now is the time for the youngsters at Munster to stand up and fight for their future not just in this competition but for the future of the province.