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17-page case study published on how 'crisis' Munster beat Wasps

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Former Wasps assistant coach Ian Costello has published a compelling 17-page case study on Linkedin examining how crisis-hit Munster secured last December’s celebrated Heineken Champions Cup win in Coventry, a match that the Irish province went into with 48 players and staff unavailable.

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Munster at the time were caught up in South Africa amid the chaos over the emergence of the omicron variant, but the crisis it caused was offset by the groundwork that Costello has done just six months into his role in Limerick as academy manager, work that lent itself to numerous rookie players seamlessly stepping into the first-team and impressively defeating Wasps 35-14 in England.

“In this paper, we present a case study of a talent development system with a professional rugby club (Munster Rugby), with a particular focus on how one particular challenge was navigated; namely the loss of 48 players and staff from the senior team for a European Cup match in 2021,” wrote Costello, the former Munster first-team assistant who left for England in 2016 to take charge at Nottingham and then join Wasps.

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“The case study approach allowed us to explore this phenomenon in context, using a variety of sources… the viewpoint of the coaches and players by using fieldwork, observation and informal interviews to gain a rich understanding of the experiences within Munster Rugby and examine the interactions and experiences in the group.”

The case study outlined how previously there had been a disconnect between the academy and the professional set-up at Munster. However, after Costello’s return from England in 2021, regular pathway meetings with the senior coaches every six weeks, integrated training and a buddy system pairing senior and academy players laid the groundwork for the improved relationships that considerably helped the club to cope with its remarkable December crisis.

Costello’s rookies were more than ready to step in and perform when Munster were presented with their Champions Cup emergency. “An academy player captured the sense of responsibility by saying that everyone was ‘representing the players that weren’t there, you were doing a job for them,” read the report.

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The victory, though, generated some mixed emotions. On the plus side, the outcome was a sense of Monster now being one big squad. “The dynamic between the younger and senior players is different now, it’s like they are one squad now. The senior players are more inclusive and engaged with the academy players, any previous divisions are gone.”

However, there was also a comedown as the coaches and academy players who had done a job for Munster at Wasps reverted into the background when the European campaign continued with a home match versus Castres with head coach Johann van Graan and his squad now back from South Africa.

“There was definitely an anti-climax,” stated an academy player in the study. “I feel like I’m at this level and you’re not playing for the next few weeks – there was a disappointment because you have a taste of it.” This was a feeling shared by the academy coaches after they also stepped away from the first team.

The more lasting legacy, though, of what happened last December is that senior players have had their faith restored in the youngsters coming through the academy at Munster. “One senior player stated that ‘we have a different calibre of player coming through now’. Another said, ‘my biggest thing now is that I’m not worried about what is coming through. I had a big worry but not anymore’.”

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Munster went on to take defending champions Toulouse to a Champions Cup quarter-final penalty shootout in Dublin and with van Graan having since for Bath, assistant coach Graham Rowntree is now in charge for the upcoming 2022/23 season.

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