This time last year Munster fans were in a state of despair. Their side had tamely exited the Champions Cup, attendances were down, and there was even talk of the late Anthony Foley not having his contract renewed.
Fast forward twelve months and the province have qualified top of their Champions Cup pool, the demand for tickets has skyrocketed, and there is a great deal of positivity surrounding the coaching ticket headed up by Rassie Erasmus.
Although much of the optimism that has engulfed the province has been borne out of tragedy, the emotional response to Anthony Foley’s passing is not the only thing fueling Munster’s current form.
Erasmus’ back-to-basics game plan, allied to his focus on the set-piece and Munster’s defence, have given the province a platform from which to build. Indeed, what the South African is currently implementing looks to be sustainable.
Nevertheless, Erasmus’ doesn’t appear to be resting on his laurels, he knows Munster rely on their pack to smash their way over the gain line and understands the need for his side to become more subtle in attack.
After their win over the Glasgow Warriors in Scotstoun, Erasmus spoke of his side being only “50-60 percent there” tactically. Again in Thomond Park the following weekend, Munster battered the Racing 92 line for the best part of 10 first half minutes before Simon Zebo scored.
Ironically, Zebo’s try came after he chose to ignore an overlap opportunity, and had to squirm his way over the line. These tactical problems will no doubt be addressed in time, and Munster have been pro-active in the transfer market to aid solve them.
To-date, Munster have signed Chris Farrell, James Hart and JJ Hanrahan, all players who will offer greater depth and additional creativity in attack.
Farrell is a player Munster fans should be particularly excited about. Not only does his size offer physicality in midfield, but his pace and ability to offload out of the tackle make him extremely dangerous in attack.
Munster fans already know what JJ Hanrahan brings to the table, while Hart will give Erasmus some much needed depth at scrum-half.
The return of Hanrahan is particularly pertinent, as the Kerryman is equally adept playing either at fly-half or inside centre. This should see him compete with both Tyler Bleyendaal and Rory Scannell for a starting place, forcing all three players to develop their game further.
Indeed, the one aspect of Bleyendaal’s game that can be criticised this season has been his kicking. With Hanrahan on standby next campaign, the kiwi will not be afforded the same leeway following an inconsistent display similar to what we witnessed in Welford Road.
Furthermore, Erasmus seems wedded to the concept of playing a second playmaker at inside centre. Hanrahan possesses the creative attributes and intelligence that make him an ideal candidate to also challenge Rory Scannell at inside centre next season.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena