FORMER UK prime minister, Harold Wilson, famously coined the phrase: “A week is a long time in politics.”
Unfortunately, for Munster head coach Johann van Graan a week can feel like a lifetime in rugby.
This time last week Munster were looking forward to having a right rattle off four-in-a-row chasing Leinster in the Pro14 Grand Final at the RDS, and there was a genuine feeling of confidence that Munster could win their first piece of silverware in a decade while also avoiding a sixth successive defeat at the hands of their arch-rivals.
The resulting 16-6 defeat was deflating in the extreme, and in truth Munster were probably fortunate on the day that a dominant Leinster side did not put up a bigger score.
Van Graan’s fawning of Leinster in the post-match interview will not have gone down well in the south, while the revelation in the past few days that Munster are signing yet another South African second row, in the form of Jason Jenkins, has backfired as a PR exercise.
When existing Munster players are exiting the club after not being offered new contracts, and with other positions on the pitch seeming to require reinforcements more urgently, the signing of the one-times capped Jenkins is a difficult one to comprehend.
We’ll revisit that signing another day though, as right now the big question is as to whether Munster can bounce back from the poor showing against Leinster to down four-time European champions Toulouse on Saturday afternoon in the Heineken Champions Cup last-16 tie at Thomond Park.
Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Keith Earls; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Gavin Coombes, Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander (c).
Kevin O’Byrne, James Cronin, John Ryan, Billy Holland, Fineen Wycherley, Craig Casey, JJ Hanrahan, Chris Cloete.
If Munster are feeling a tad down in the dumps after last weekend’s loss then they might take some solace in the fact that Toulouse came unstuck at home against Montpellier in their Top 14 clash, losing 16-29.
They have lost two and won two of their last four league matches, although that form guide has obviously to be taken with a pinch of salt given that the likes of Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille, Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack were away on Six Nations duty with France for the past couple months.
Toulouse head coach Ugo Mola welcomes back his international contingent for this weekend’s crunch clash, and with a full squad to pick from they are sure to test Munster to the absolute limit on Saturday.
Add the French internationals to Cheslin Kolbe, Thomas Ramos, Francois Cros and Sofiane Guitoune, as well as veterans such as Joe Tekori, Jerome Kaino, Yoann Huget and Maxime Medard, who scored two tries at the weekend in the defeat to Montpellier, and Toulouse are going to represent a huge obstacle for a smarting Munster side right now.
We can certainly expect a reaction from Munster on Saturday, but against one of the top sides in Europe it will take more than extra effort for Munster to prevail.
One of the big takeaways from the Leinster defeat was the comparison of the game plans between the two teams. While Leinster injected pace and tempo when in possession, and had options galore when they moved it wide, Munster seemed stuck in groundhog day.
After three and a half years of the van Graan regime it would appear that Munster have not really developed their style of play at all. Every time Munster score a decent try, or see-off inferior opposition we hear of the Stephen Larkham effect, but there was absolutely no evidence of this effect last Saturday, and Munster were incredibly predictable as a result.
As well as the conservatism in approach there is also conservatism in selection. Munster were beaten up by Leinster in the front row, yet game after game Stephen Archer and John Ryan get rolled out, when the team is crying out for the power of either Roman Salanoa or Keynan Knox. The youngsters may not ultimately be the answer, but Munster simply have to try something different.
Likewise in the second row, the pace and athleticism of young Thomas Ahern, even off the bench, would give Munster some badly needed energy. It is worth nothing that Ahern is the same age as Ryan Baird, who not only played for Leinster last weekend but made his debut for Ireland against Italy in Rome.
If Munster are to have any chance of saving their season they must not only be bold in their approach this weekend but they must not be afraid to back youth, as one thing is for certain, the side and style from last weekend will not suffice.