LET'S be honest and agree the only two bits of positivity from the Munster camp over the last few months were the evidence that the next generation are able to step up to the plate when required and that Johann van Graan is moving on.
The van Graan scenario is old news now but most people would have preferred if he handed back the keys to the Munster dressing room as soon as it was announced that he was going to be coaching Bath next year.
The news Peter O’Mahony and John Kleyn ahead of tonight’s Champions Cup clash against Castres was a very welcome boost but where exactly does this leave the newcomers who impressed against Wasps and Ulster?
The game of rugby has changed dramatically over the last 15 years and what was deemed as adequate in terms of a player’s ability back then is a far cry from what it is today. Professionals are no longer measured in what they can do on match day, they are now subjected to a battery of tests that will determine whether their names are even mentioned in a selection meeting.
Patrick Campbell, Scott Buckley, James French, Eoin O’Connor, Daniel Okeke, Mark Donnelly, Seán French, Jack Crowley, John Hodnett, Jack Daly, Jack O’Sullivan, Thomas Ahern and Alex Kendellen have all shown promise in games where Munster have emerged victorious. Why are they just swept aside when the household names return?
From a very young age it is drilled into youngsters, if they work hard, do the extras, and make sacrifices they will be rewarded. Yet after helping Munster win games, the academy graduates drop back down the pecking order, making way for some players who are now only living on their reputations.
Conor Murray falls into that category. I’m not suggesting that Murray is a bad player, he has just fallen foul to a trio of coaches that has killed off his once-brilliant rugby brain that allowed him make holes in defences where others would see impenetrable walls.
When Murray first broke onto the international scene he was a live wire that kept every opposing backrow player second guessing what he was going to do next. Now after being exposed to coaches such as Joe Schmidt, Warren Gatland and van Graan, all Murray does now is kick the ball away or pass it to a rampaging forward who runs straight into brick wall defences.
All of the aforementioned coaches have coaching philosophies that curtail and kill off all the aspects of the game that make taking risks such a rewarding feature. They only worry about wins and not rugby with the type of flair and style the fans love and a player like Murray thrives on.
Munster’s opponents tonight Castres, will be looking to avenge their narrow away loss (19-13) just before Christmas to the men in red and while their Top 14 domestic league will be their main focus for the year ahead, a good run in Europe will come a close second.
Having defeated Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle and Stade Francais over the last two weekends, this Castres group is sure to be bursting with confidence and unless they throw out their second-string players, this will be a very tricky game for Munster.
Any poor kicking from the playmakers in the Munster camp will be ruthlessly punished by the home side's back three and unless Munster find a way to score tries, they could be in for a very long night.
I will be very interested in van Graan’s pre- and post-game interviews because he has done himself no favours over the last few weeks with the emotionless style he is portraying.
This one might just need another form of divine intervention if Munster are going to leave France with something tangible.