Munster Season Preview

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Munster go into a season for the first time in 14 years without Paul O’Connell as part of their squad. O’Connell, who is about to captain Ireland in the World Cup has joined the Galacticos at Toulon on a two year deal.  Anthony Foley has a major job on his hands to try and fill the gaping hole that O’Connell’s absence will leave. It has also been confirmed that Donncha O’Callaghan will also leave the province for Worcester Warriors.

Munster Season Preview

Foley and the Munster brains trust scoured the world for another top class second row to replace O’Connell and the signing of former Australian Mark Chisholm could be a shrewd move. Chisholm will be available for every game and at only 33 years of age, has plenty of mileage left on the clock. A fit Donnacha Ryan and Dave Foley form a formidable second row trio.

Even though Munster lost the Pro 12 Final to Glasgow last season there were plenty of positives to take from the season. The emergence of CJ Stander as a leader of the team being the standout one. The South African back rower was outstanding in the 14/15 season and Munster will be expecting another big year from him.

The big name signing Munster made in the off-season was Francis Saili. The All Black centre arrived from the Auckland Blues and should be a good addition to a midfield that lacked some flair at times last term. Munster fans will need to be patient with him, but he has settled well in the province and if he is anything like the Kiwi’s that have played at Thomond Park in the past, he will be fine.

Ian Keatley’s end of season form will be a worry for Foley. Once it was clear that J.J. Hanrahan was on his way to Northampton, Keatley got a free run at out half. In both the semi-final and final of the Pro 12 Keatley had nightmare games. He also didn’t make the Irish World Cup Training Squad, a blow for a player who started Ireland’s first Six Nations game this season. It truly is a make or break season for the former Leinster and Connacht man.

If Keatley does not start the season well, Munster have a player fit and ready to go in Tyler Bleyendaal. The Kiwi has been out injured since he arrived at Munster and will be itching for a chance to get into the starting 15.

Like the rest of the Pro 12 teams, Munster will be without their international players, Conor Murray, Simon Zebo, Peter O’Mahony, Keith Earls and Donnacha Ryan at the start of the season due to the World Cup. Foley has signed some decent back up players.

Along with Chisholm and Saili, Tomas O’Leary has returned to the province after three years with London Irish. O’Leary will add some much needed depth to the scrum half position. The start of the season will also give younger members of the squad a chance to shine. Jack O’Donoghue will be looking to back up his impressive debut season while Dave O’Callaghan will hope for an injury free run in the side.

Hooker Mike Sherry also makes a welcome return from a host of career threatening injuries. At 27 Sherry has potentially his best years ahead of him and he could make a huge difference this season. Munster have missed his presence on the field, of that there is no question.

Munster played a lot of free flowing and exciting rugby last season and their fans will expect the same for the upcoming term. Keith Earls has been on fire since his return and his inclusion in Ireland’s World Cup Squad reflects that. This could be a big year for the Limerickman, if he manages to stay clear of injury.

Another top four placing in the Pro 12 is expected for Foley and his team but it is essential that they have a better European Champions Cup campaign. The draw has been somewhat kind as Treviso are in the their group along with Leicester Tigers and French Top 14 champions Stade Francais. The Tigers are no longer the force they once were but Stade were the surprise winners of the Top 14 in 2014/2015 and will welcome Will Genia and Willem Alberts to their squad once the World Cup ends.

In some ways this is a make or break season for Anthony Foley. It may sound harsh but Munster fans expect a lot, maybe too much. There is no question that they can’t compete financially with certainly the French teams and perhaps the English teams, but Munster fans still expect to win.

At. the business end of last season Munster didn’t deliver. In the Pro 12 home semi-final they were extremely lucky to overcome the Ospreys in a game that Munster completely dominated. The final against Glasgow proved to be a defensive horror show and Foley has to shoulder a lot of the blame for that collapse. If similar failings occur this term, Foley may well have to look for other gainful employment.

PLAYERS IN: 

Tomas O’Leary from London Irish
Jordan Coghlan from Leinster
Francis Saili from Auckland Blues
Matt D’Arcy from Clontarf
Mark Chisholm from Bayonne
Shane Monahan from Gloucester Rugby

PLAYERS OUT:

J.J. Hanrahan to Northampton Saints
Sean Dougall to Pau
Damien Varley retired
Alan Cotter to Aix-en-Provence
Patrick Butler to Pau
Paul O’Connell to Toulon
Like O’Dea to SC Lille
Barry O’Mahony retired
Johne Murphy retired
Donncha O’Callaghan to Worcester Warriors
Andrew Smith released
Eusebio Guiñazú released
Ivan Dineen released
Martin Kelly released