IT'S time for Munster to face some harsh realities in the wake of their Pro14 semi-final defeat to Leinster at the Aviva Stadium last Friday night.
Some big calls are going to have to be made.
They are probably not going to be popular, but for Munster to snap out of their silverware slump anytime soon it is 100% necessary.
No one can deny that Munster’s season has been badly hit with injuries.
You could even argue that the season was effectively stillborn due to Joey Carbery’s injury travails.
The dominant thinking at the start of the year was that Munster did not have adequate back up in the out-half position and unfortunately the season’s results have backed up this assumption.
Unfortunately for JJ Hanrahan, Friday night was surely his ‘no mas’ moment.
The Kerry native serves as an adequate back-up for Pro 14 combat, but the time has now arrived where he simply cannot be Munster’s go-to out half for big games any longer.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” is a quote often mistakenly attributed to Albert Einstein, but it applies with respect to Hanrahan.
He is after finishing his best ever season for Munster yet in the biggest games of the year he missed a simple drop goal that would have beaten Racing 92 at home, missed an easy penalty away to Saracens when Munster were on top, missed a last-minute kick to draw against Leinster two weeks ago and then missed two straightforward kicks, the second of which was in the simple category, to ensure Munster couldn’t stay in touch against Leinster on Friday night.
There is only one thing for Munster to do. Move on. This is surely an easy thing to do with three talented young out-halves on the books.
Ben Healy, Jake Flannery and Jack Crowley need to be trusted now. If they spend a season making mistakes then so be it.
It’s better to have your up and coming 10s making mistakes and learning than to have your experienced 10s making the same mistakes and you going absolutely nowhere.
There was great hope in Munster that this curtailed end of season could bring with it some silverware.
The much-hyped introductions of dual World Cup winners Damien de Allende and RG Snyman increased expectancy levels considerably, but unfortunately just six minutes into his Munster career the towering lock Snyman was dropped to earth by two teammates and his cruciate ligament tore, meaning he is pretty much out for all of next season.
Further injuries in the same game to David Kilcoyne and Jean Kleyn meant that Munster had lost three of its more physical and abrasive forwards in one fell swoop.
Losing these players, and especially Snyman, was a bitter blow to Johann van Graan, as he must have been looking forward to the opportunity to see the Munster pack bully the top sides in Europe once more.
Without Snyman, and indeed Kleyn, Munster suddenly look very much underpowered in the engine room. Suddenly Munster look weak at maul time, both offensively and defensively, and it was quite clear against Leinster that Munster’s starting second rows Tadhg Beirne and Billy Holland were getting blown away at collision time.
Unfortunately, Kleyn has had a number of neck injuries now, so Munster might well have to plan for a large chunk of next season without his considerable bulk.
This is going to be a huge problem going forward. Munster have no choice but to pick the likes Fineen Wycherley, Gavin Coombes and Thomas Ahern now.
Billy Holland is in pretty much the same boat as JJ Hanrahan at this stage. He is back up at Pro 14 level, but he was never a starter on Munster’s European Cup side and he never will be.
The aforementioned youngsters might be though, and they must be given the opportunity to prove their worth.
Ruthlessness is required in the back row also. Munster have lacked a top class openside for some time now.
Currently, they have no one who can impact a game in the manner of a Will Connors, Jean van der Flier or Dan Leavy. Chris Cloete looks a good squad option, Jack O’Donoghue is really a blindside and Tommy O’Donnell looks like his best years are behind him.
John Hodnett will be 22 come January. He is Munster’s future 7. Leinster have no problem trusting players in this age bracket, yet Munster seem incapable of doing so.
This culture must change.
There is an elephant in the room at blindside too.
You could well make a strong argument that Munster’s best squad options for the No. 6 jersey are Tadhg Beirne and Jack O’Donoghue, yet it would be a huge decision to drop captain Peter O’Mahony.
Perhaps now is the time to make that call.
Munster’s other Lion, Conor Murray, is in a similar position. His form has been well below his best for some time now.
In fact, Murray’s ponderous play and constant box kicking would appear to be seriously slowing down a lot of Munster’s attacks at present.
A lot of judges would be of the view that Craig Casey is already a better option at No. 9 then Murray. Again, it would be a huge call, but sooner or later it has to be made.
Other areas are similar. Munster have two very promising tight heads on the books now in Keynan Knox and Roman Salanoa.
One of these should be in every Munster 23 going forward, as Stephen Archer and John Ryan are not the future at this stage.
It is perhaps too easy to criticise some of the players at this time, but the coaching ticket has a lot of questions to answer too.
Johann van Graan has effectively had three seasons at the helm now, with pretty much nothing to show for his efforts.
A lot of media attention was given to the work that Stephen Larkham was doing with the attack, but there was simply no evidence of this on Friday night, and Graham Rowntree is the forwards coach of a pack who appear to have a completely blunt maul.
The time for sugar coating is over. Changes are needed at Munster.
If that means a transitional year then so be it, because if they keep doing the same things over and over again then we can only expect more semi-final exits every year.