There’s a new era beckoning at Munster and perhaps this season will be all about setting standards on a clean slate. The talent in the squad is there but how it is all put together will decide our fate…
01) James Cronin
Straight away is a selection headache in the Munster side as two powerful looseheads in James Cronin and Dave Kilcoyne go neck to neck.
Over the past couple of seasons ‘Killer’ Kilcoyne has been the preferred of the two props as his destructive ball carrying ability has proven invaluable for Munster. However, Cronin has now come in to the mix with his ‘dog’ and superior scrummaging to offer a serious challenge to the number one jersey.
In the opening rounds of this season both men have shown strong form but when Cronin reduced his penalty-count, for us his game-changing ability to put in a hit, his incredible aggression and ability to lock out a scrum gives him the advantage over his competition despite occasionally being caught too high in the carry as of late.
02) Mike Sherry
Before Sherry’s injury over a year ago, the Garryowen clubman was set for a spell in the Ireland international set up and although he hasn’t yet discovered that former sharpness yet he has still managed to bag a few tries already in the league and in preseason. His lineout throwing has also been an asset thus far while his efforts at the breakdown are second to none.
Duncan Casey was a star player last year but we’re sure he’ll be equally important in this campaign as the bench becomes a vital part of rugby union.
03) BJ Botha
Massive credit should go to BJ who has sorted out his scrummaging under the new laws over the summer and has been a key player for Munster in the six games that he’s played in the Pro 12.
The Springbok World Cup winner will be crucial to the team as not only does he bring experience and immense solidarity but due to the fact that there is a colossal gulf in class between him, and the other options at tighthead.
04) Donnacha Ryan
Mr Angry is another extremely important player back in the mix and could be set for a big season. The Irish international has been the equivalent of an animal in a cage since slipping back on the red of Munster.
His abrasive style and aggression in the pack will play a key part in the side’s success for sure as Munster scream out for someone to step up and lead the team as Peter O’Mahony, Felix Jones and Paul O’Connell will all be sadly missed, but hopefully not too much.
05) Mark Chisholm
Since debuting Chisholm has been exceptional for Munster and could just be the ideal replacement for Paul O’Connell, based on early showings. The experienced Wallaby brings superb lineout operation and does the basics very well indeed.
After the late late lineout steal against Ulster he looks to have won some supporter’s hearts already but whether he can impress the ‘Heineken-Cuppers’ is another story when Munster kick off against Treviso on Saturday evening. Could prove invaluable in the team.
06) CJ Stander
Munster will need all the ball carriers that they can get when the games begin and CJ, although not picked at eight here, would probably still make more carries than the others combined.
The reason why we have at six in this instance is due to his provings as a ball winner against Ulster in Thomond Park and without having a backrower instructed and capable of dominating on the deck, the men in red will struggle. CJ will be now of course be captain in the absence of Peter O’Mahony but how he manages to replicate what has been lost will be a colossal test of the South African.
Dave O’Callaghan would alternatively bring an equal effort doing the dirty work but the re-jig of the backrow means that CJ will have to do double time for the best of the team, carry, ruck and roll.
07) Sean Doyle
You could say we’re being risky here as Doyle is in fact yet to play for Munster but when you note that he is the only player of such a position in the entire squad, it is also a no-brainer!
Doyle is the sort of player who according to our Ulster sources, will tackle his heart out and grab a few tries, but you would also want a groundhog with him to have a nice balance. Having Stander and Doyle in other words, will have to be the short-term O’Mahony and O’Donnell with such similarities and for us, although it’s probably a step down, it’s a combination which has worked wonders to date.
Whether the ex-Brumbies bruiser starts on Saturday and how he performers will be very interesting as Munster fans need something unimaginable to make up for what has been lost with the usual internationals on the injury list. However, all reports sound good so hopefully Doyle’s quality is carried over to his new province.
08) Robin Copeland
Should this backrow be picked, perhaps Copeland should count himself a lucky boy as he is yet to impress for Munster for any sustained period of time. However, his standards when given a shot in Europe for Cardiff in his final season there, are inexcusable.
The Wexford native won four out of six Man of the Match awards in such a season, so dare we say he’s a big game player? Well there probably isn’t any evidence out there right now, to suggest otherwise.
He’s got the strength, he’s go the power and skills, Copeland is only lacking some confidence and momentum which will kick-start his career down south. We don’t know about you but all of us in the MH team are hoping he can flourish against the Italians this weekend and kick on from there. His form may well turn out to be hugely important to define our season.
09) Conor Murray
No brainer here as Murray continues to be one of the best scrum halves on the planet. His kicking game and communication will be a key feature of this team in the Champions Cup campaign as Munster unlike last season, will look to get a more even balance between the forwards, the backs and kicking high-balls. The star of the team.
10) Ian Keatley
After Keatley’s dismal end to last season, everyone was excited to see kiwi Tyler Bleyendaal show his hand in the driving seen but unfortunately, injuries have prevented the former Crusader from getting sufficient game time.
However, based on what we have seen so far, this may have been a blessing in disguise as when partnered with Tomas O’Leary in halfback, ‘Keats’ has looked a new player as he played with more demand, control and balls.
His kicking could be a little more consistent but it looks like he has improved his open play clearances to an extent and for the Dublin born playmaker, that’s half the battle.
11) Keith Earls
The best finisher in the country, an enthusiastic defender and full of pace, Keith Earls is just one of Munster’s many weapons in the back division this season.
The Moyross man is just back from a record-breaking World Cup display in which he alternated between the wing and centre but his level of performance never altered. If he can at the very least, resemble such standards in the European Cup then it will be very hard for Stade, Leicester or Treviso to compete with Munster at all.
We haven’t put him in centre but we have our reasons, don’t you worry.
12) Denis Hurley
Probably Definitely the most workmanlike back on Munster’s books but not only his 6’3 frame, bravery and solid as a rock defense convinces us that he should start here (although it does do the team great justice in terms of physicality)
Dinny is also a greatly accomplished offloader of the ball which should get the ball rolling brilliantly over the next few months. Examples of this playing a key role could be seen in his partnership with the pacey Keith Earls or Pat Howard last season and with the new signing of All Blacks star Francis Saili, Hurley could be set for a vital part to play once again.
13) Francis Saili
Maybe a bit risky at times but the Auckland native certainly adds great spark to the team with his footwork, passing and ability to spot space in behind defenses with a dink through.
Fans have described him as a mixture between Mafi and Tipoki and for us such names look to be fair comparisons of the new man at first glance. Perhaps a major test is yet to come his way but in early showing Saili well and truly looks the part of the kiwis who have gone down in Munster folklore before him.
Could be about to be let loose.
14) Andrew Conway
Conway has been Munster’s player of the season so far and has earned himself a starting place in Europe as a result. His ridiculous speed and agility means that he can make a try out of anything and always excelled when given a starting place in the team last year during the cup.
He was probably looking to fill Felix Jones’ boots at fullback but right now we believe his decision making is just a fraction off of where it needs to be. However, that’s not to say that he wouldn’t cause carnage for defenses wherever he plays with his unique footwork.
15) Simon Zebo
The man with the X-Factor will have to play through transfer rumours around a potential move to Toulouse to lead Munster to Champions Cup success as he looks likely to ply his trade from fullback.
Munster will still have to trust Zeebs to grab a few tries along the way but his aerial and kicking game are where he also has skills in abundance. His link up play with the backs should be highly interesting too as himself and Saili showed great chemistry on their first outing together in Thomond Park. Should such flair carry through to the next few games, the reds could be too hot to handle.
16) Duncan Casey
A set-piece specialist and a hard worker. The sort of player that everyone wants to be able to bring on.
17) Dave Kilcoyne
Not that he would like to hear this but the sub role could suit Killer perfectly. A ball carrying menace bursting out of the traps is a weapon to behold for Anthony Foley.
18) Mario Sagario
Not ideal but again, he should be considered the only tigerhead beyond Botha in the Munster squad. The Uruguayan impressed against Edinburgh from the bench but will have to become somewhat of a cult hero along the way if he is to perform to the demanded standards.
19) Dave Foley
Quite unlucky not to start due to the arrival of Mark Chisholm but Foley would still have a big influence on games from the bench with as he forever makes a nuisance of himself around the field in rucks, mauls and lineouts.
20) Jack O’Donoghue
Jack is another man unfortunate not to get the nod should Doyle take his jersey but again, it’s a nice dilemma to have for the coaches. His unnatural ability to cover openside makes Sean Doyle an automatic selection but wherever the 22 year old comes on from second row to eight, he will make a physical impact.
21) Tomas O’Leary
The resigning of O’Leary has been a blessing as although Murray is the starting nine by quite a stretch the difference in quality between the Ireland international and Williams or Sheridan is enormous. O’Leary brings comfort to the players around him and never gets dragged into a dog fight. An experienced head to close out the tightest of games is exactly what Munster have here in Tomas and it’s marvellous.
22) Tyler Bleyendaal
Bleyendaal offers options in both 10 and 12 which is a nice bit of versatility to have at the coaches disposal. He is well able to mix things up and his play making is of the highest class once he gets going. He has been unfortunate with injuries but is a novelty style of player to bring on for the province.
23) Ronan O’Mahony
The signing of Argentine Lucas Gonzalez Ambrosino doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as Munster have homegrown talent such as O’Mahony equally as quick and imaginative in the ranks. It’s too early to make judgement on the World Cup fullback but surely the top dogs at the province got ahead of themselves when his signature became available on the short-term as in O’Mahony, Van den Heever and Fitzgerald the strength in depth is most certainly already there.