Alan Reilly is 20 years old. He’s been a serious Munster fan for 6 years. He is part of the Talking Rugby Podcast and occasionally writes for Talking Rugby Union. His favourite rugby moment was Munster’s Heineken Cup victory in 2006, a massive weight off the shoulders of a team that had been called bridesmaids for years!
The once reputed “Kings of Europe”, Munster have been in a state of transition that is set to continue into this season under new coach Rob Penney, after the retirements of many stalwart names (Flannery, Wallace, Leamy, O’Driscoll et al) last season. It was also a season where Tony McGahan’s tenure came to a disheartening end, with a European exit at home to Ulster and an embarrassing defeat away to Ospreys in the RaboDirect PRO12 Play-Offs. However to McGahan’s credit, last season he also laid the groundwork for Penney’s term in office, by introducing many new faces to first team action. In many ways his hand was forced by the aforementioned injuries, but there was still a clear mentality shift by the coach. With their golden generation of the noughties reaching its end, the province must now rely on their young talent to build a viable future.
However this is not all bad news, Munster’s academy has produced some exciting players over the last number of years, including Simon Zebo and Peter O’Mahony who were both capped for Ireland last season. At this year’s IRB Junior World Championship, we saw the likes of JJ Hanrahan prosper against hosts South Africa. There are also the other youngsters involved in last year’s successful British & Irish Cup campaign. One of the biggest changes we have seen over the last few years is the average age of ‘squad players’ dropping, there are few players outside the first XV over 25. Therefore the players needed to step up to cover first team injuries will be young and potential stars of the future. These are the players Rob Penney needs to bring through to challenge the current starters.
As Alan Hansen infamously said “You can’t win with kids” and while it didn’t hold true for Manchester United back then, it may apply to Munster. Penney must marry youthful talent and enthusiasm with the experienced heads in the squad, big names like O’Connell, O’Gara and Howlett are still vital to Munster. Penney has previous with working with young players, having been in charge of Canterbury, an extremely successful New Zealand province and also the Junior All Blacks, who were highly successful in the Junior World Championship. Penney will be joined by fellow Kiwi Simon Mannix as the new backs coach, Mannix was a colourful figure while at Racing Metro and will hope to spark the often stuttering Munster backline into life. Crucially the services of forwards coach Anthony Foley have been retained under the new regime; Foley is Munster through and through and knows the Munster psyche.
With a difficult first block of fixtures to start, including trips to Ulster, Leinster and Ospreys (all matches that Munster lost season), the hard work begins immediately. The minimum expectation for the competition will be a Play-Off place, whilst also progressing to the latter stages of the Heineken Cup. The meetings with Leinster will once again matter a great deal and Munster will hope to gain revenge for the home and away losses of last season. Nothing pumps the Munster blood quite like the sight of those blue jerseys! This season promises to be exciting to say the least!
Best addition to your side? Opening day prediction?
CJ Stander, a 3 point win
Overall season prediction for your side?
3rd place finish, probably lose in the Play-Off
Points Scorer = Dan Biggar (Ospreys),
Try Scorer = Tim Visser (Edinburgh)
Player of the Season = Stuart Hogg
Young Player of the Season = Dominic Ryan (Leinster)
Who's going to win the RaboDirect PRO12?
Leinster can’t lose another Final; it has to be Leinster this year.