MUNSTER return to action this weekend in the Rainbow Cup, with old foes Leinster again being the opponents.
While the competition may not be the season’s priority, it presents the club with the opportunity of getting two unwanted monkeys off their back. The long wait to win silverware has now passed the decade mark.
Even this competition, that has been significantly watered down by the announcement this week that the four South African clubs will not be part of it, would be worth winning if it meant finally getting Munster hands on a trophy.
For Johann van Graan, any trophy will do.
Also, the fact that Leinster are looking to extend their winning run over Munster to seven matches is something that needs addressing. They may be a great side, but a team with the ambitions of Munster simply cannot be losing that many times to their main rivals.
That particular monkey is in danger of reaching gorilla status if that losing streak goes much further. Munster are desperate for a win over Leinster at this stage.
Of course, the big story in the build up to the commencement of this competition has been the news that Munster’s all-time record try scorer Simon Zebo is returning to the club after a three-year sojourn in Paris at Racing 92.
The old adage goes that ‘you should never go back’, but at 31 years of age the former Cork Con man has plenty to offer, and not only for Munster, potentially for Ireland as well.
His return to Munster potentially reopens the door for Zebo to become involved with Andy Farrell’s Ireland squad going forward, with the 2023 World Cup being a potential goal.
Some would be of the opinion that Munster would have been better off investing heavily in the front row department, and that with talented young players like Shane Daly, Liam Coombes, Calvin Nash and Sean French already in their back three ranks it perhaps resembles a luxury signing, albeit it has to be acknowledged that he covers both wing and full back positions.
And while there may be a grain of truth in that, there is also no denying that Zebo brings an intangible X-Factor that no one currently within the squad possesses.
For a side crying out for a dash of flair Zebo would appear to be a perfect addition.
To add to that, you would imagine that the likes of Joey Carbery and Damian de Allende would really enjoy playing with the Corkman, while the younger players will surely be looking forward to playing with a player with such charisma and experience.
Having lost the experience of CJ Stander, Billy Holland, JJ Hanrahan and Tommy O’Donnell for next season, having someone coming in like Zebo can only be a positive, and to top it all off, he’s one of us.
Other positive news arrived this week with the revelation that giant second row RG Snyman is very close to a return to action as Munster revealed that he will be “reviewed for a possible return to squad training next week”.
The Springbok suffered a devastating cruciate knee injury only six minutes into his debut last September and Munster have really missed his presence in the crunch games this season. To even get two or three games out of him in this curtailed Rainbow Cup would be a positive.
Leinster’s motivation will have a huge bearing on the outcome. With the Pro14 title already safely in the bag, their focus must surely be on their Heineken Champions Cup semi-final away to Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle next Sunday.
This match against Munster merely serves as a warm up for them, yet we all know that if they bring anything close to their A game to the RDS on Saturday then Munster could be in for a long evening.
Both Munster and the Exeter Chiefs would regard themselves amongst the top sides in European club rugby, but neither ever looked like beating Leinster in the recent Pro14 Grand Final and the Champions Cup quarter-final.
Leinster’s relentless tempo game, while in possession, and their expertise at forcing turnovers when defending, mean that they simply suffocate their opponents into submission.
To beat them, Munster have to slow down their ruck speed somehow, and ensure that the majority of the game is played in Leinster territory.
It is easy to say that. To achieve it, however, is another thing entirely.