MUNSTER’S review of the season must look at the positives as well as the negatives, in a summer of soul-searching for head coach, Johann van Graan.
Firstly, the positives. Munster have gotten to the semi-finals of the two major competitions two years in a row. That is not easily done.
Toulon, who have a huge history in the competition and a budget multiples of Munster’s, haven’t been able to do that.
Blooding new young players this season and last has been another huge positive.
Fineen Wycherley, Gavin Coombes, and Jeremy Loughman have all had decent game time up-front this season in the PRO14, and none of them have been found wanting. While, in the backs, Neil Cronin, Shane Daly, and Calvin Nash have come in and done well and we can expect to see more of them next season.
Van Graan is prepared to use players regardless of their age and that is good.
Munster didn’t lose at home this season and something as simple as winning one more game and getting a home semi-final, instead of having to go the RDS, could have made all the difference and the talk this week would have been about a trip to Glasgow, instead of a season review.
They have turned both of their bases back into fortresses, where points will not be easily conceded.
The biggest negative, from this and last season, and the reason Munster probably haven’t made the next step, is how they deal with pressure in big games.
That comes with experience, unfortunately, and Reds fans will be hoping that four semi-final losses have given them enough of that to push through next season.
In both semi-finals this season, the Champions Cup and PRO14, Munster lost the key moments on both sides of the interval. That can be just due to focus and is a mindset issue that can be changed.
That brings us nicely to the opportunities. And the opportunities are linked directly to their coach’s willingness to use young players.
With Munster bringing in the lowest amount of players — an issue that is down to Munster’s own finances and decisions that are made by the IRFU — the Reds are going to have to look to their own emerging players in the academy to drive on the competition for places.
Don’t be surprised to see Sean French, in the backs, or Keynan Knox, in the pack, getting game time early next season.
New blood and a new game plan — which we have been assured by van Graan will be a more attacking one — present huge opportunities for Munster, as well.
Just as the lack of signings and a new game plan can mean opportunities, they can also be threats.
The senior players who go away to the World Cup will know that their places are secure in the starting side for the European games when they come back and that should not be the case.
Conor Murray and CJ Stander have been off their best this season, but will still be first-choice eight and nine when it comes to the big games and that can lead to complacency, something no coach wants in his squad. The new game plan and coaching staff will have to look at how Munster deal with the ball when it’s on the deck or, more importantly, how they protect it.
Far too many times last Saturday — and over the course of the season — the ball has been reefed from Munster players and that’s as much about the numbers that are committed to the breakdown by the current game plan.
So, it’s going to be a long summer of soul-searching for the coach and his players.
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