It’s a huge week in Ireland as United Rugby Championship champions Munster get ready to travel to Dublin and face a Leinster team who have put a ‘big target’ on their backs.
A lot of talk this week has revolved around leadership. In Munster, the captaincy is set to change, with long-term skipper Peter O’Mahony stepping down after a decade with the armband.
Dream come true
“Captaining Munster has been a dream come true for me,” said one of the province’s rugby legends, who has also captained his country and the British and Irish Lions on occasion.
“I grew up watching and idolising the Munster team and in particular the people who were leading the team.
“People like Mick Galwey, Jim Williams then on to the likes of ‘ROG’ and Paul, who I had the privilege of playing with at the start of my career.
“I can remember the day I was asked to be captain like it was yesterday and discussing it with Paul to get his approval.
“From that day to this it’s been an utter privilege and has never been something I’ve taken for granted.”
O’Mahony also hinted that his decision to step down from the captaincy before he called time on his career was related to succession planning.
“I think it is the right time to step back from the role to share my experiences and give the same guidance that I received when I took on the role,” he concluded.
With whom he shares the experiences is not yet confirmed, with head coach Graham Rowntree saying only that the team already “has a strong leadership group”, of which O’Mahony would continue to be a part.
Leadership, and the strength thereof, has been a theme of Ireland’s success generally over the past few years, and it was not only Munster pointing to the strength of the leadership throughout the squad as the derby nears – indeed, not the only team to be moving on from a long-term captain.
With Johnny Sexton no longer gracing the Dublin turf, Leinster have also had to move on. Head coach Leo Cullen opted to use the modern concept of co-captaincy, using lock James Ryan and centre Garry Ringrose as leaders.
Facing Munster has particular significance for Ringrose who, in the absence of Sexton, was captain of Leinster when they beat Munster in the 2020 PRO14 Final.
But for Ringrose, while the captaincy is clearly an honour, the strength of Leinster lies in the ability to make good leadership decisions throughout the squad.
“The element of the captain or co-captain, there’s a bit of ceremony around it in the sense of the referee and the coin toss and maybe extra media obligations, but when it comes to the group it’s different leaders stepping up at different times,” Ringrose told The42.
“Myself and James can share the load but there’s loads of lads in the group who can do the same thing, so it’s the first time I’ve been involved in that but it’s nothing new to the Leinster group anyway in terms of sharing the load.”
It’ll be the first clash between the two since a late Jack Crowley drop goal took Munster through to the United Rugby Championship final at Leinster’s expense last season, with the latter resting a few front-line players for that semi-final ahead of what was expected to be back-to-back finals.
Ringrose set to play
Ringrose was one of the players rested that day, and resisted claims that the team was complacent, but also noting that any tiny possibility of complacency would be a non-starter this weekend as well.
“…Mindset-wise I don’t think there was ever any complacency,” he said.
“But there definitely isn’t now from the fact they are champions. We have got to be at our best to take on some class players in top-quality form.
“Any interpro (clash between Irish provinces), you have to turn up, prepare the best you can during the week and prepare on the day, to give ourselves a chance of winning. Unfortunately, we fell on the wrong side of the result last year in the Aviva.
“We’ve got to prepare the best we can this week, that’s what we’ve been focusing on, delivering a performance to give us a crack.”