To sum up Damien de Allende’s stint with Munster as an utterly underwhelming sporting marriage might seem a bit harsh. Until, perhaps, one was able to gain an assessment from the horse’s mouth.
I obviously signed here to win a trophy,” says the World Cup winner, impatiently awaiting an addition to his medal haul.
And Munster signed him to win one too, and awarded a handsome licence to do so by an IRFU wary of the yawning gap created by Leinster, and granted generous support from private benefactors to ensure the debt-ridden club weren’t burdened with the entirety of a reputed €500k salary.
Few can strenuously argue that he has delivered bang for his buck; and only the next few weeks will determine whether he can feel that he has been able to repay the outlay on his signature.
There have been a myriad of factors; Covid denied him – and everyone else it has to be said – the energy of a crowd, a calamitous accident created unwanted headlines on the front rather than back pages, and all the while he is beginning a new family.
Lest we forget, human beings fill these warrior shirts.
Still, if the metrics of success were to close the gap to Leinster – the scant evidence of the fixtures between them reveal the truth – and to win trophies, it has been a failure on both counts.
At times it seemed although the player was adequately prepared for what he could contribute to his new team, they were palpably unable to accommodate his remarkable range of skills, backed up by impressive power and panache.
Ironically, Munster’s last outing against Toulouse seemed to encapsulate the absence of vivid sporting consummation; a raucous, rampaging first-half display, helping his side to a half-time lead with assists for Keith Earls’ try double, which was mitigated by a second 40 where he barely touched the ball in attack.
It summed up yet another missed opportunity for club and player.
“Last year was frustrating, not that we left anything out there, just the mistakes that we made,” he notes. “Hopefully we have learned this week from that.”
He feels they have this season, and personally too, allied to the returning crowds; he has scored just five tries in red but four of them have arrived this spring.
“I play rugby to win and that’s the main goal. If I score a try, I score a try. If I don’t it’s more rewarding to set up a try.
“Our momentum is better than last year, having supporters helps. We had big moments last year but when you have no crowd it feels like the hard works goes unnoticed.
“The crowd can keep you up for much longer and Exeter in the last round was like that.
“We have grown a lot and are a lot tighter than we are last year. We have a better understanding not just of each other but what we want to achieve.
“Our execution and understanding with each other has really improved, the way we have grown as a group has been incredible. We have had dips this season but we are starting to gel at this stage and could do that even more on Saturday.”
A siege mentality helps, whether engineered by forces within, after the messy coaching handover, to the repeated criticisms from supporters and others to their fitful form.
“When things get tough, especially in a team environment, it can be quite easy to point fingers and when things got tough we kept it in the group and we took accountability of it.
“The toughness started just before we went to South Africa. We lost a game against Connacht, which was a very tough game. It was just a bit of frustration.
“But when frustration does creep into a team and you sort it out in the group and you don’t let that frustration get out of the group, it helps a lot.
“We’ve spoken about it numerous times and the understanding of the way we speak about it has helped a lot as well. It’s not blaming each other, it’s making each other better and I think as a group we understand that.
“We’ve learned a lot and have a lot to look forward to, but it has been incredible the way guys have moved on from that frustration. Every time there is frustration we just talk about it and get it out of the way, we don’t let it linger any more.”
The 30-year-old, presumably Japan-bound this summer, is primed to unleash some of his personal frustration too in front of a partisan crowd – a home away from home.
And a continuation of his recent try-scoring exploits would certainly help.
“I don’t have a favourite try but the Exeter one was incredible in Thomond Park,” says De Allende, as he hopes for a stark contrast to his last losing visit to the Aviva Stadium.
“The last time I felt energy like that scoring a try was against Wales in the World Cup semi-final. It was exceptional.
“And if I score in the next few weeks, hopefully I can feel the same energy from the crowd.
“We have to stick to our structures and play our rugby. If you get drawn into their rugby, you are playing into their hands, so we need to keep the game to our benefit as much as we can.
“It’s going to be incredible. Munster have organised it really well to help the supporters with their buses.
“It will be a great day and hopefully the drive back will be even sweeter.”