Pro 12 Season Preview – Munster

Pro 12 Season Preview – Munster

Last season afforded Munster fans a rather unhealthy dose of reality. The realisation being that Munster are no longer a clear top side in the league. Sheer belief in themselves had allowed them to scrape a fair few close wins, other times they’d shown glimpses of their old selves and beaten their opponents well, yet too often when they were put under pressure and fell behind, their heads dropped and they were on the end of some heavy defeats, in both the league and the Heineken Cup.

This attitude in their players when going behind in a match is for me the most worrying sign of Munster’s decline. In years past that would never have happened. For me, this current Munster crop of players, with Ronan O’Gara past his best and Paul O’Connell persistently injured, are lacking in leadership. People talk about Peter O’Mahony being the next leader, but for me his temperament is still in question. Yes he puts in outstanding performances himself, but for me he doesn’t quite have the ability yet to really rally his players together as a team, as the last performance against the Ospreys showed.

Munster are now facing a stage of re-building, but I’m not sure they put the work in in their years of dominance to allow this stage to go as smoothly as it needs to. Their inability to produce home grown centres and props is a worry. Some of their star players in Earls and Murray are misfiring. Others such as Ryan and on occasion O’Mahony are proving they can make the step up but I don’t feel there are enough players that are making that step.

For me, it’s a question on whether Munster will have the belief in themselves to carry them through the tough matches of next season as they as a squad rebuild, or will the frailties exposed by teams like the Ospreys and Ulster last season continue to be targeted successfully?

Players brought in such as Laulala could prove invaluable but it is a tough prospect that new head coach Rob Penney faces to deliver the successes that will undoubtedly be demanded by the fans. In an ever competitive league, it will be a hard task for this Munster side to make it into the playoffs, and they will most likely get caught up in the scrap for the 3rd and 4th place spot.

The return of Howlett, exciting players like Zebo and Hanrahan (if he gets game time) and the grit of Ryan should be enough for them to remain in the top echelon of the league, yet victories are going to be much harder won for this squad and the real question will be can they get the attitude and belief in place to get it right on the pitch. Results at the tail end of last season indicate this will be difficult for them, but with a new coach and effectively a new beginning, Munster fans will hope that their team can put those performances behind them and get on with their re-building without the results on the pitch taking too much of a hit.

My players to watch: Casey Laulala, Peter O’Mahony, JJ Hanrahan and Niall Ronan

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17 thoughts on “Pro 12 Season Preview – Munster

  1. Somebody doesn’t like Munster!;) Would agree with a fair bit except for heavy HC losses. We lost once by 6 points, hardly heavy. Some of what you say is correct the team seems to lack a few leaders for the futre. POM and Ryan could be those guys, one match where POM failed doesn’t rule him out, he did a great job during the RWC . I think you are doing a disservice to the rebuilding done last year. We brought through guys like Zebo, POM, O’Donnell, Sherry and a few others last year. We are still rebuilding but it is further along then you think. Earls has done an alright job for us it’s Ireland where he ahs been muck.

    We have a lot of work to do but I don’t think we are as far behind as you think. 3/4th place is achievable a HC QF will be tough but not impossible. I think Munster are a good 2/3 years away from serious contedning for HCs. We need to drop ROG in the HC, he doesn’t attack the gainline and he isn’t conducive to good backplay. Keatley is a decent player and JJ Hanrahan will be a great asset at 10/12. He looks very exciting, he will find it tough like all new guys comign in but he has savage potential.

    Very nice work and it does have a great deal of truth to it. I think we are a while away from competing but we could spring a few surprises on some teams. Nice stuff. Keep up the good work

    One thing it’s Earls not Earles!

  2. aha ta! will change that.

    I agree 3rd/4th is achievable but this is such a topsy turvy league I think you guys are going to get stuck in the dog fight for it along with Glasgow, Scarlets and Ulster. So a lot will be down to luck whether or not you make it. And I know you’ve some players coming through but you’ve just been so slow at it, even Hanrahan is behind where he should be in terms of exposure at top class rugby. Also I don’t think the guys you’ve got coming through bar a couple are as good as those you’ve recently lost/are past their best. It’s a tricky one, but I think a lot more work needs to be done in the Munster academy, for me anyways. Definitely don’t think you’ll go through a disastrous re-building but I don’t think it will be done as quickly or as successfully as a lot of people would like is all 🙂

  3. Scarlets? What is it 16 and counting 😉 Hanrahan is only 19, he has plenty of time and he will get gametime this year. It’s pretty hard to replace guys like Wally and Quinlan but we seem to have talented players in other positions. I think Munster fans know we won’t be massively succesful this year, or maybe even a few more but we are starting something that could go well for us.

    I know there is some talent there at prop there are one or two kids who I think could make it big, At outhalf and cetnre there is some 17/18 year olds who are not in the academy or the schools system but are very good. They are involved in Munster setups though.

    A few years before we compete, the replacing of a dynasty is pretty difficult, no team rides through it smoothly. Will be interesting, and keep up the good work!

  4. Will he get the game time though? Going by what past Irish sides have done he’ll be about 23-24 before he really gets a shot. Really do hope Munster give him the chances he needs, definitely at Pro 12 level anyway, sometimes I think the softly softly approach does more damage to players then just chucking them in at the deep end, as it were.

  5. He will get game time he is on a development contract now which is what guys who are 22 are on. Penney will give him time. I want JJ to start ahead of ROG!

    21/22 is when most of Munster’s bigger ,younger names have broken through. Likes of Zebo, Murray, Earls et al. Some it’s 23 or so is it a bad thing? Yes and no, some guys like Donnacha Ryan come to rugby late and need to work a lot on their skill rather than just operating on potential. JJ looks like he is ready and he will get about 10 games or so minimum I would reckon. He has a great deal of pressure on him before he has kicked a ball!

    • Honestly these days (in the backs at least) I think 23 is verging on too old now to break through properly. Forwards understandably take a bit longer to develop. Maybe I’ve been spoilt by the current crop of Wales players coming through and the rate the Scarlets’ academy is churning them out but by about 20yrs old now,the backs coming through have plenty of Pro12 experience (Heineken of course is yet another step up). I just think it’s something Irish sides struggle with, they stick with their stars and seem to wait for them to retire/be past their best to bring through replacement players, and that just seems a bit wrong to me. The system should be that replacement players are there ready and waiting to slot in.

  6. Yeah there’s some truth to that. But the likes of Earls,Murray,Zebo broke through at 21 for Munster. In Ulster, Gilroy and Jackson with several guys like Farrell and Marshall treading on their toes. Both around 20. In Leinster baby Kearney, O’Malley and Madigan seem to be the main guys to have made it last year or the year before. Madigan just turned 23 has played in 2 HC finals. Kearney turned 22, 2 days ago. O’Malley 23. A few guys like Macken have been halted by injuries.

    Is it an issue? Yes, but it is certainly getting a heck of a lot better.

    • I see what you mean but I’m not sure you should have used Jackson as an example. That was pretty crazy where he’d barely had a start for Ulster then they chucked him in to start in a Heineken SF and Final. That’s just ridiculous (and not in a good way!)

  7. Red Stag Rugby says:

    Right in short I disagree with a lot of this. Firstly I don’t think we got an unhealthy dose of reality. We made it out of the knockout stages in a difficult pool where we were written off and got a 3rd place finish in the league. This coincided with one of the worst injury crisises I have seen. We have excellent depth and managed to limit the damage.

    Our academy team also won the B&I Cup and I suspect that many of them will make the step up over the next 12 months same as how many of our last B&I final team did (it had Zebo, Sherry, O’Donnell, O’Mahony, Murray).

    I think the conveyor belt is moving along nicely and I think we have a decent age profile. For example we have just ONE front row (BJ Botha) over the age of 30. In the second row I think Dave Foley, Ian Nagle and Donnacha Ryan are coming through nicely. In the backrow most of our guys are just 22 years old. CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony will both be starting players and they are just 22 years young. In fact just TWO of our 9 backrows are over the age of 28.

    As you’ve rightly pointed out we had chronic problems in trying to organise a backline. However we have a new coaching team including a new backs coach as well as a completely new look centre pairing. I also think that we will see Hanrahan, Earls, Barnes and Dineen (our young Irish centres) get ample game time.

    Our new coaching team has spoken about the talented young players at Musnter. Penney said if he is to be a successful coach it will involve them emerging as first choice players.

    I think that we are certainly a match for Edinburgh, Racing Metro and Saracens in Europe and we have superb depth which should be capable of delivering at least a 4th place finish.

    I don’t think we have the quality to win the Heineken Cup without a bit of luck but it is plausible.

    Overall I think you place way too much emphasis on last season which holds minimal relevance due to new signings, new coaches and an unprecedented injury crisis which saw us going into key matches without Felix Jones, Keith Earls, Conor Murray, Paul O’Connell, Donnacha Ryan, Doug Howlett, Denis Leamy and David Wallace.

    I would expect quarter finals of Europe and semi finals of Rabo at a minimum with our likely finish that we will get to either the semi finals of the ERC or the RaboDirect final.

    • To be fair that’s not the worst injury crisis I’ve ever seen. Plus Felix Jones has hardly been a consistent start for you guys. I think the only big losses for you last season were the injuries to Wallace, Howlett and O’Connell, and that was more down to leadership issues.

      Not commented on the Heineken in this, but for the Pro 12, with international call ups and inevitable injuries (as all sides get them) I think Munster will be struggling to get into the top 4 (along with the other sides I listed) the play offs are just so much more competitive in recent seasons.

      I’m not sure last season has minimal relevance, sure hopefully a new coaching set up will bring a new mindset, but it’s been years since I’ve seen a Munster side crumble like they did in some matches last season. They just didn’t have the leaders on the pitch and I’m not sure where (apart from perhaps Ryan and O’Mahony if he matures enough) you’ll get that from.

      I’m not saying you’ll be push overs, but I don’t think you’ve brought the players through quickly enough, nor do I think they are of a brilliant standard (yet, some I think will improve) to really keep Munster pushing for top honours. I could of course, be completely and utterly wrong 🙂

      Also – who the hell wrote you off in the Heineken last season?! You and Saints were always the favourites to qualify from the group.

      • No we weren’t, everyone was saying we wouldn’t get out of that group. With Saints HC finalists, an “improving” Scarlets (we’ve been hearing that for a while but hey might finally compete now) and Castres a side who lost top top 14 finalists Montpellier by a solitary point. After a season when we got killed in the HC we weren’t exepected to do well

      • No one in Wales was writing Munster off Conor, Scarlets were viewed as if they scraped through to the Amlin we’d have done v v well (which indeed is what we managed to do!)
        Munster were perhaps living off past performances but you’d have been a bit twp to write them off. This coming season now might be a bit different.

  8. Red Stag Rugby says:

    My Munster players to watch this season:

    – Dave Kilcoyne; Had a good British and Irish cup run last year and got a bit of Rabo action. Wian du Preez is probably our most indispenable player at the moment with little if any cover. Horan seems to be on his last legs and we need Kilcoyne to deliver. At the end of last year he seemed to be preferred to Horan on the bench.

    – Mike Sherry; Has already won over the Munster faithful and replaced Damien Varley in the starting team. The young hooker will be hoping to improve further especially with his throwing and get 3rd choice hooker ahead of mercenary Strauss.

    – David Foley; I’m interested to see how he will do at Rabo level. Mick O’Driscoll is retired. O’Connell, Ryan and O’Callaghan are internationals. There is scope for a new face. I think he could very well overtake Ian Nagle and I expect him to do well.

    – CJ Stander; After all the talk about should he/ shouldn’t he come to Ireland, is his departure the start of an exodus etc, big things will be expected from Stander. He may be young but Munster have bought this guy in the expectation he be a leading European backrow.

    – JJ Hanrahan; The man of the moment. Nominated for IRB Junior World Player of the Year and yet to get any gametime whatsoever for the Munster senior team. Looks likely to get significant gametime in the #12 shirt with only James Downey providing real competition.

    – Felix Jones; Will he manage to come back from yet another long term injury. Last season he looked a pale shadow of the exciting fullback we saw in seasons gone back. This is a massive season for him. He could mount a challenge to Rob Kearney for Ireland or alternatively he could fall behind Keith Earls and Denis Hurley at Munster.

  9. Red Stag Rugby says:

    I think that this team must start the Rabo campaign

    01 Wian du Preez
    02 Damien Varley
    03 Stephen Archer
    04 David Foley
    05 Billy Holland
    06 Dave O’Callaghan
    07 Tommy O’Donnell
    08 James Coughlan
    09 Peter Stringer
    10 JJ Hanrahan
    11 Johne Murphy
    12 James Downey
    13 Casey Laulala
    14 Doug Howlett
    15 Denis Hurley

    We can assimilate BJ Botha, Mike Sherry, Donnacha Ryan, Paul O’Connell, CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Ronan O’Gara and Keith Earls as the weeks progress.

    I think we could well be looking at this team by the new year:

    01 Wian du Preez
    02 Mike Sherry
    03 BJ Botha
    04 Donnacha Ryan
    05 Paul O’Connell
    06 Peter O’Mahony
    07 CJ Stander
    08 James Coughlan
    09 Conor Murray
    10 JJ Hanrahan
    11 Simon Zebo
    12 James Downey
    13 Casey Laulala
    14 Doug Howlett
    15 Keith Earls

    I agree that O’Gara is hurting the team and its time for him to be on the bench. I suspect that the fact Hanrahan is already training with Penney and lit up the tournament where Penney will have seen him first hand will work in his favour.

    • Glad to hear that about Hanrahan and Penney linking up already, I think it’s something Munster needs to do. Forget the old heads like ROG and just let the youngsters kick on, I think it’ll really help Munster, they’ve stagnated a bit over the past couple of seasons.

  10. I think I’d be more confident of gettign through the group this year than last .Sarries are the main concern. Edinburgh will cause a bit of hassle but they had a weak group last year. Racing Metro propably aen’t too interested in the HC.

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