Oliver wary of men who could dent Munster bid
Edinburgh might have suffered a setback on the opening day of the Heineken European Cup but their reputation for fast, open rugby still precedes them as they prepare to head over to Munster on Sunday.
For the past five years, former Scotland scrum half Greig Oliver has been working as a development coach across the water, aspiring to assist the Ireland Under-20s, along with ex-Welsh Grand Slam supremo Mike Ruddock, when they shocked hosts South Africa at this summer’s World Cup.
For the day job, though, Oliver, from Hawick, is in charge of the Munster academy while giving specialist coaching to Munster’s two Test No 9s – Conor Murray and Peter Stringer,
So, it is from the heart of the home camp that he tells of how wary Munster are that Edinburgh will quickly put behind them their heaviest home defeat in the Northern Hemisphere’s blue riband competition, that awful 45-0 reverse against Saracens.
“Munster will not be cutting corners with Edinburgh,” insisted Oliver, who adds: “I’ve just come from a meeting and obviously can’t say what we talked about.
“But I can say Munster are very aware of how well Edinburgh are capable of playing. They know a lot, in particular, about Dave Denton.”
Asked about other perceived threats to a home side determined to avoid a second pool defeat for only the third time in an 18-year competition involvement following their bonus point-loss at Racing Metro, Oliver says: “Munster know how much work Greig (Laidlaw) can do at stand off and everybody here is wary of Tim Visser when he gets the ball in hand.
“There is a threat from (Edinburgh’s) midfield in particular given an opportunity and Munster know they are in for a slog up front.
“They recall, too, the last time Edinburgh were across at Thomond Park and they were on top for a spell until a silly mistake gave Munster an edge to get back in.”
That was a reference to a double sin-binning that proved the end of Edinburgh’s spirited challenge before eventually going down 34-17.
If Munster found a way to win with a try bonus from 13-5 up at half-time on that occasion it is a chilling thought, acknowledged by Oliver, that there are some extra responsibilities percolating through the ranks. “Ireland’s going through a rough old time economically,” he says, adding, “and it is sport that puts a smile on people’s faces, gets them up for work on a Monday morning. There’s also the slight matter of Munster keeping upsides with Leinster who are going for three Heineken Cups in a row.
“Think of the old Borders – Edinburgh rivalry and you begin to have an idea of the feelings that exist among all the Irish provinces who are constantly seeking an edge on each other.”
It is Oliver’s job to help provide that by helping bring through the next generation including JJ Hanrahan, a stand off who could make his debut this weekend in the enforced absence of Ronan O’Gara through injury and who was nominated for player of the tournament at the Under-20 World Cup.
One that found his way into the Munster set-up by another route was the Scot that got away – Sean Dougall.
Born in Perth 22 years ago, flanker Dougall was part of a Scotland Under-19 squad coached by Peter Wright and after spells with Rotherham and the Ulster Academy found his way to Munster on a 12-month contract this season. Dougall marked his tournament debut with a try but suffered added frustration as Munster team surrendered an early ten-point lead to lose 22-17 at Racing.
Oliver said: “Having spoken to some of the Munster players it was one of those horribly wet days when it was almost better not to have the ball and feed off opposition mistakes. It has left Munster feeling they have a lot to make up this weekend.”
Comparing set-ups on both sides of the Irish Sea Oliver, who worked as an SRU development officer before marrying an Irish lass, says: “Scotland seem to start players earlier but there are good numbers here and competing with Gaelic Games can have negatives and positives.
“For example by playing both Gaelic Football and rugby youngsters learn more about spacial awareness, peripheral vision, support running, aerobic capacity etc. We just have to hope that eventually they commit to rugby.”
One incentive, Oliver, says is the chance to learn at top Munster level from new coach, Rob Penney.
“Everybody in the Munster set-up is constantly challenged and with Rob around you have to be on the ball all the time.
“First and foremost he is a good bloke, always approachable and with a similar personality to Todd Blackadder (ex-All Blacks captain) who was with Edinburgh when I worked out of Murrayfield.”
Of course, Edinburgh’s coach, Michael Bradley, is a former Munster player himself and as Oliver stresses “remains highly respected across here”.
Could the desire of a man like Bradley returning to native parts be enough to get Edinburgh back on track partly at the expense of Scottish rugby’s prodigal scrum half, Oliver? It is a fascinating sub-plot concerning two men whose Test careers overlapped but never actually put them in direct opposition.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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