JOE's Guinness PRO12 Preview: Munster
Our PRO12 previews continue with southern province Munster who will be hoping to improve on last season’s semi-final loss to the Glasgow Warriors.
Anthony Foley is in as the province’s new coach and he has brought in a new backroom team that includes former hooker Jerry Flannery and former Cork Con coach Brian Walsh. A team that in recent seasons have been touted as being in transition, Munster are one of the most difficult provinces to judge. While sometimes frustratingly inconsistent, they have this incarnate ability to ramp their performance up a number of notches for the big clashes.
How will they fare this season? Will they embrace the traditional Munster style of play this season? Finally, do they have the quality players to really challenge for domestic honours come the end of the season?
Players in/Players out
It has been well documented over the previous few months that Munster lack the financial clout and/or the reputation to attract marquee overseas players. The issue was brought forward by last year’s coach Rob Penney in the light of Connacht’s capture of exciting centre Bundee Aki from the Chiefs.
Indeed, the signing of Andrew Smith from the Brumbies to replace the outgoing Casey Lualala can hardly be considered a great signing by the former PRO12 champions. Laulala made a huge impact in the southern province and Smith, who wasn’t the most coveted centre in the transfer market to say the least, has big shoes to fill. But, he comes with a wealth of Super Rugby experience and he is big physical presence in midfield with good core skills so he may turn out to be a clever signing for the province. Time will tell.
Robin Copeland’s return to the Emerald Isle from Cardiff is a great signing for Munster. The number eight is a powerful ball carrier and is explosive from the base of the scrum. James Coughlan’s departure is a loss but he was in the twilight of his career anyway so Munster have done well in replacing the France bound man. At just 26, Copeland is just coming into his peak and Munster can get another five or more top quality years from the Wexford man.
Video via PRO12 Rugby.
The only other well-known signing was the capture of versatile fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal from the Canterbury Crusaders in New Zealand. Bleyendaal has been in and out of the Crusaders’ team throughout his career, but that is not a blemish on his record when you consider he is competing against NZ legend Dan Carter and the NZ capped Tom Taylor for the number ten shirt. He is quite a good player and could slot into the number 12 shirt for the province and play as a distributing 12 rather than the conventional battering ram inside centres that dominate today’s game. Although it seems JJ Hanrahan has been earmarked for that role in Munster so it is up in the air where, if anywhere, the Kiwi will line up.
Munster will be disappointed by the end of their season last year. A frustrating loss away to Glasgow left many supporters curious as to what the provinces attacking plan was. They looked devoid of ideas in the loss, played very laterally and they made it easy for Glasgow to shut them down.
But the opening half of the season was promising for the province, only losing once in before the turn of the year. But such a severe drop off in the second half of the season meant they had to travel for their semi-final and the rest is history. If they can maintain their form through the season then their fortunes could be different come the business end.
Cliché you are most likely to hear this season
“Foley has Munster back playing the Munster way”
Cliché you are least likely to hear this season
“Did ye all get that email lads?”
Room for improvement
Munster are a side who are difficult to judge simply because of the passion they can instil into their games against the big sides. But as for areas to improve, back play is an area of real concern for the province.
We know that their forwards can mix it with the best, but their backs have looked very ordinary over the past couple of seasons and it has hindered the team’s progress. If new backs coach Brian Walsh can get the best out of some of the players at his disposal then the outlook is positive for Munster. Players like Ian Keatley, JJ Hanrahan and Simon Zebo are extremely talented and should be capable of creating more sparks in the backline next season. They showed some slashes of it against Perpignan last year, just have a look below. Skip to 2:05 for the try.
Video via XxGamer Pro xX.
Best case scenario
Winning the PRO12 would be the best case scenario for this proud Munster side. With the weakening of the Welsh sides and Glasgow being the only challengers from Scotland, Munster will have one eye on Leinster and Ulster who will be their main rivals this season. Munster haven’t reached a Pro12 final since their 2011 victory over Leinster but fans will be hopeful of a return to the top for the province.
Worst case scenario
Missing out on European qualification would be an unprecedented disaster for Munster. A European tournament without Munster in it doesn’t bear thinking about for fans. Odds are they will qualify (and I’m pretty certain they will), but this is the worst case scenario and that would be a dramatic failure.
If they were a fictional character
They would be Sideshow Bob from the Simpsons. While once a prominent character, they have taken a back seat to the successes of Leinster in recent seasons. They have also tried to change their game under Rob Penney but will likely revert to their old ways under the new management.
Plus, Sideshow Bob always reveals his plans to his victims, not unlike what Munster did with that now infamous misplaced email to the players. Just in case you don't know who Sideshow Bob is, take a look below...