Munster’s defeat last night did not come as a surprise.
Last night’s result should prove to be a wake up call for those who unquestionably believed that Munster would beat the Leicester Tigers.
Indeed Leicester’s margin of victory could have been greater had it not been for their sense of charity, opting to kick for goal rather than the line as the game entered its final stages. So depressing was Munster’s performance, that I was quietly looking forward to the roadworks in Buttevant so as to have something else to give out about.
However there is no point in dwelling on the result, instead we must accept the fact that Munster will probably fall short of qualifying for the knock out phase of the Champions Cup.
While I felt last season’s early exit would prove beneficial for Anthony Foley and his coaching staff in the longer term, this season’s likely failure is down right depressing.
Although there was much finger pointing at the full time whistle in the stands last night, criticism of the coaches and players should be both scathing and constructive.
1. The Coaching Staff
While many relished the sight of Munster returning to their traditional game under Anthony Foley last season, his failure to add any subtlety has seen the reds struggle against more sophisticated teams.
Defensively Munster have looked porous for some time, and their scrum has been decimated on too many occasions. If the Munster Branch were to draw similar conclusions at the end of the season, then the entire coaching staff will be let go.
However given Munster’s well documented financial position, they will find it difficult to recruit the caliber of coach demanded by supporters.
Instead an experienced combination such as Declan Kidney and Eddie O’Sullivan should be considered in the short term. While both men have their critics, Munster must cease their spiraling decline before attempting to return to the top table.
2. Playing Staff
A number of weeks ago, the Cardiff Blues took the decision to cut their playing staff from 65 to between 38 and 40. As a result, they intend to free up money to attract big name players.
While the Blues have not yet signed such individuals, it is the concept that Munster should engage with.
The future of players such as Duncan Williams, Gerhard Van Der Heever and Robin Copeland should be considered, while questions need to be asked of Tyler Bleyendall, Denis Hurley and Ian Keatley. Jettisoning Simon Zebo should also be considered if necessary.
In the immediate term, Munster should look to sign an out half such as Beauden Barrett, whose contract is up next season, and an established centre to replace Hurley. However the return of JJ Hanrahan should really be the long term goal.
Munster must also attain a high quality tight head to have any hope of competing against Europe’s elite teams.
3. Re-establish The Link With Supporters
Almost uniquely, Munster find themselves in the position of having their main stadium 100 km from their largest population centre.
Therefore, given the decline in attendances, more games should be played in Cork, ticket prices reduced and free buses put on to transport fans to Thomond Park for big European and Pro 12 games.
As many clubs around Munster have suffered from not being able to sell tickets, they should be allowed offer members tickets at reduced rates without suffering financial penalties.
The Treviso game left clubs lumbered with tickets, while Munster’s probable exit will make it very difficult for them to sell tickets for the home fixture against Stade Francais.
4. The Academy System
Having produced players Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony in recent years, few would doubt the ability of Munster’s academy to produce world class players. However Munster’s academy remains behind each of it’s provincial rivals.
While it is easy to ask why Tralee’s Ultan Dillane now finds himself playing with Connacht, Munster need sort out their underage structures.
Rugby has never been so popular in the province, with minis rugby in particular thriving. Yet Munster rely too heavily on the schools system. Clubs need to be empowered and coaches better trained.
Scrum and lineout masterclasses need to be conducted in venues throughout the province on a more regular basis, while the likes of Brian Cody should be consulted so as to create an effective structures, development squads and playing philosophies across Munster.
Finally Munster, along with the other provinces, will have to demand that their academy players play in the AIL.
5. Commercial Development
Although Munster possess a stadium that is the envy of many European sides, it is acting like a financial noose around their necks.
In the past Munster were too proud to sell the naming rights of Thomond Park, but that must now be a priority. Indeed nothing should now be below Munster, including the Mr Binman sin bin.
Efforts should be made to capitalise on the rise of MMA by attracting a large scale event to Limerick. While more concerts and conferences should be held in the stadium.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena