Munster have struggled to find a consistent midfield partnership.
Key to Munster’s successful 2008 Heineken Cup campaign was the centre pairing of Lifeimi Mafi and Rua Tipoki. Armed with soft hands and an uncanny ability to sidestep through the tightest of defences, the Kiwi partnership complimented the provinces brutish pack perfectly.
However since then, Munster have been unable to field a similarly dangerous centre combination. Next season, Sam Arnold will be the 26th player to be parachuted into the problem position, in order to give Rassie Erasmus’ team some penetration in midfield.
Since Mafi and Tipoki took the field against Toulouse in the 2008 final, Munster have signed players ranging in ability, from the world class Jean de Villiers to the relatively unheard of Save Tokula, in a bid to bring some creativity to their backline.
Not only that, but the province attempted to recast the likes of Denis Hurley, Johne Murphy, Danny Barnes and Keith Earls as centres, but to no avail.
Consequently, eight years after winning their second European Cup, Munster are still struggling to find cutting edge in midfield.
[tie_slide]1. Rua Tipoki
One of Munster’s best ever overseas signings, Rua Tipoki brought leadership and incision to Munster midfield during the 2007/08 season.
[tie_slide]2. Lifeimi Mafi
Right from the moment Lifeimi Mafi handed off a Bourgoin player during his home Heineken Cup debut, he became a fans favourite.
Mafi’s best moments came playing alongside Tipoki in midfield and was considered to be one of the best centres in the European game for a brief period.
[tie_slide] 3. Tom Gleason
After making his Munster debut against the Border Reivers in 2006, Gleason went onto make 18 further appearances before being released in 2012.
[tie_slide]4. Jeremy Manning
Jeremy Manning was considered to be Munster’s great white hope when he signed in 2005. However he never lived up to expectation. Manning will be forever remembered for taking part in the famous Munster haka before facing the All Blacks.
During that game he replaced Tipoki during the second half.
[tie_slide]5. Barry Murphy
Barry Murphy was the real deal. A great turn of pace, soft hands and fantastic vision, however injury marred his career and forced him to retire 2011.
[tie_slide] 6. Keith Earls
Keith Earls’ best position is on the wing, where he can use his electric pace to devastating effect. However both Munster and Ireland have used him in midfield to varying degrees of success.
[tie_slide]7. Paul Warwick
Another one of Munster’s best overseas signings, Paul Warwick was comfortable at fly-half, full-back and inside centre. His ability to strike drop goals from distance made the Australian a danger in the opposition’s half.
[tie_slide]8. Jean de Villiers
Jean de Villiers was signed in an attempt to return Munster to the top of the European game. However he was inconsistent throughout his single season with the province, and returned to South Africa at the end of the 2009/2010 campaign.
[tie_slide]9. Sam Tuitupou
A midfield work horse, Sam Tuitupou only really knew route one, but was an effective ball carrier.
However as Munster were transitioning to a wider game plan under Tony McGahan, Tuitupou skill set never really suited Munster.
[tie_slide]10. Ivan Dineen
A product of Munster’s academy, Ivan Dineen made his debut for Munster against Treviso in 2010. Although he was a strong ball carrier, he struggled to offload the ball and take advantage of the space he created.
Dineen was released by Munster in June 2015.
[tie_slide]11. Danny Barnes
The New Zealand born Danny Barnes made his Munster debut against Connacht in April 2010. Although he broke into the Munster team as a winger, he eventually transitioned into the centre, starting the 2012 Pro 12 final opposite Brian O’Driscoll.
However his form subsequently dipped, moving to the Newcastle Falcons in 2013, before joining Ealing Trailfinders last summer.
[tie_slide]12. Will Chambers
Will Chambers joined Munster on a short term contract at the beginning of the 2011/12 season. Although his stay was short, he managed to impress and secure a starting spot before leaving in January 2012.
[tie_slide]13. Save Tokula
Signed by Munster on a three month contract from NPC side, Waikato, Save Tokula made two appearances before returning to New Zealand.
[tie_slide]14. James Downey
Munster signed James Downey for a second time at the beginning of the 2012 season. However, while his abrasive style won him plaudits with Northampton, under Rob Penney Munster adopted a game plan which often saw Downey skipped at inside centre.
[tie_slide]15. Casey Laulala
James Downey and Casey Laulala were signed during the same summer and were to form a centre partnership that would offer incision and brute force.
However, although the twice capped All Black was more successful than Downey, his running lines took him across the field and Laulala’s offloads often resulted in turnovers.
[tie_slide]16. Tyler Bleyendaal
Although Tyler Bleyendaal joined Munster in the summer of 2015, injury has resulted in him only making 5 appearances for the province. Therefore it is impossible to pass judgement on the player.
However if he finds himself on the treatment table for the majority of the new season, the former All Black under 20s captain will most likely be released.
[tie_slide]17. Pat Howard
Another player to join Munster on a short term contract, Pat Howard signed on a three month deal during the 2014/15 season. However, like Chambers, the South African soon found himself in the first team, before leaving in February 2015.
[tie_slide]18. Denis Hurley
Although Denis Hurley broke into the Munster set up as a specialist full back, he saw action on the wing before moving into midfield. Due to his size and ability to offload the ball, Hurley was seen as an ideal candidate to fill the number 12 jersey.
However his move into midfield was not entirely successful, with Hurley’s defence called into question on a number of occasions.
[tie_slide]19. Andrew Smith
Andrew Smith joined Munster at the conclusion of the 2014 Super Rugby season. Although he proved effective at times, he was part of a midfield that lacked creativity.
Smith left Munster after their Pro 12 Final defeat against Glasgow later that season.
[tie_slide]20. Cian Bohane
A graduate of Munster’s academy, Cian Bohane made his debut against Zebre in May 2013. Despite signing a one year contract extension last January, he has struggled for game time.
[tie_slide]21. JJ Hanrahan
The one that got away, JJ Hanrahan was supposed to lead Munster’s backline for much of the next decade, either from fly half or inside centre.
Despite winning the Pro 12’s Golden Boot award for his exploits during the 2013/14 season, Hanrahan controversially left Munster for Northampton during the summer of 2015.
[tie_slide]22. Johne Murphy
After making a name for himself with the Leicester Tigers, Johne Murphy joined Munster during the summer of 2010. Although he was initially seen as a winger, Murphy also saw game time in midfield and at full back.
[tie_slide]23. Ian Keatley
Originally signed to replace Paul Warwick, Ian Keatley ultimately became Ronan O’Gara’s successor in the number 10 jersey. While his form during the 2014/15 season saw him deservedly start against Italy in the Six Nations, Keatley has since struggled to hit those heights.
Keatley has also seen game time at inside centre and full back.
[tie_slide]24. Francis Saili
Much was expected of Francis Saili when he joined Munster on a lucrative contract worth €500,000 per season in the summer of 2015. However he has struggled to make an impact during his debut campaign.
Nevertheless, under Rassie Erasmus, Saili could yet become explosive.
[tie_slide]25. Rory Scannell
Munster’s stand out back from last season, Rory Scannell has the potential to become a very important player in the very near future.
Blessed with great hands, and an accurate boot, Scannell has the ability to solve Munster’s midfield problems.
[tie_slide]New Arrival: Sam Arnold
After impressing with Ulster, Munster moved to sign Sammy Arnold from their provincial rivals in February. As such, Arnold will become the latest player to try and fill the void left behind by Tipoki and Mafi.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena