ONCE again, hope springs eternal.
The introduction of new blood to the only competition that really matters in Munster’s season was a very refreshing sight for all who follow them so passionately.
To see the young and fearless faces of Ben Healy, brothers Josh and Fineen Wycherley, Craig Casey and Gavin Coombes take to the hollowed turf of Thomond Park during last week’s opening Heineken Champions Cup game has re-kindled the fire in many of the supporters who had lost their way.
I guess you could argue these players have been playing away in the Guinness Pro14 and this has allowed them to become familiarised with the pace of the professional game.
However, and it’s a very big 'however', the difference between playing in the Northern Hemisphere's top club competition and the very often dull and dreary Pro14 is a bit like comparing the English Premier League to the Isthmian league where teams like London-based Bognor Regis ply their trade.
If you were to judge Munster on how they did or how they are doing in the Guinness Pro14 you would be insulting all their former players.
Accepting second best is never what players like Mick Galwey, Peter Clohessy, Anthony Foley and Ronan O’Gara who were pioneers of the modern game were ever about. And when the vast majority of them placed their jerseys on the hook for the very last time, they did so knowing that they were leaving it in a better place from where they first picked it up.
For Casey and his fellow apprentices to fully understand the level of where they need to be in order to be successful on a European stage, they will first need to experience a full season of European Cup rugby and when they lock horns with a side like ASM Clermont Auvergne in a venue like the Marcel Michelin stadium they will experience another brand of rugby that is completely alien to them.
Last week Clermont notched up 51 points against a very good Bristol side and did so in Bristol’s back garden.
Like a vast amount of the teams in France, Clermont Auvergne are not retained and funded by the FFR (French Rugby Federation) but by individuals or organisations who run the clubs as a business.
With a budget of €33.7 million to toy with, Munster’s youthful future will be faced with repelling a star-studded squad that could easily compete in the Six Nations and whilst I’m not suggesting that Johann van Graan and his players have no chance of winning this tie, they will have to produce a performance the likes of which we have not seen for many a year to do so.
In many cases having buckets of money doesn’t always guarantee success. I’d rather have it than be looking for it especially when it is spent wisely.
Take Saracens for an example, Yes, they broke all the rules, but look at what they achieved with squad. They may have paid a hefty price for their illegalities, but the three European trophies that they picked up along their journeys are still accredited to their name.
This would never have happened unless they had a very big cheque book to operate from.
During last week’s victory over the former aristocrats of English rugby, Harlequins, Munster offered us glimpses of a brand of rugby that they are not normally associated with.
Keith Earls and Andrew Conway were receiving the ball without having to come in off their wings. Conor Murray wasn’t kicking away possession every time he got his hands on the ball from a line-out or ruck and their ball-carrying forwards were looking to keep the ball alive before, during and after the tackle.
It was far from refined, but it was new and fresh, and this combined with the new generation might just have signalled a new dawning for how Munster go about their business of winning silverware once more.
During last week’s game against Bristol, Clermont scorched over for seven tries and Japanese international Kotaro Matsushima managed to bag himself a hat-trick.
At times it seemed that when the French felt like they needed a score they just upped the tempo and either went through Bristol’s first up defence or used their abundance of pace to make the English side look as if their boots were made from concrete.
Bristol managed to rack up 38 points of their own and this is something the Munster video analysts will have been highlighting during the week.
Should Munster return to their kick and hope style of play they will find some of the games most exciting runners coming at them and exploiting the tiniest of opportunities. In order to have any hope of leaving French soil with something tangible, van Graan will need to devise a strategy that starves their hosts of possession and somehow makes the most out of every opportunity that is afforded to his players.
JJ Hanrahan will need to have a Man of the Match performance and must play a whole pile flatter if he is to allow his centres any hope of making it beyond the gain-line.
The odds are really stacked against Munster for this game, but in the glory days that’s exactly how they would have wanted it.