Peter Bills - (Irish Independent Rugby columnist)
Published 19/01/2011 | 05:00
Have Tony McGahan and his staff delivered for Munster?
Overall, yes. Remember, they reached the Heineken semi-final last season, which upheld their great tradition in the competition. The mistake they made was in not digesting the lessons of that defeat. It was increasingly obvious then that Munster's great side was ageing and renewal was needed. True, some youngsters have been blooded this campaign. But my sense is that this decline, this end of an era, ought to have been seen coming a lot earlier and acted upon.
Have the senior players delivered for Tony McGahan?
The indisciplined lot in Toulon on Sunday certainly didn't. It defied belief that players with the long experience of Donncha O'Callaghan and Ronan O'Gara could get themselves sin-binned for ridiculous acts of foul play. And remember too Paul O'Connell's sending off against the Ospreys earlier in the competition. So overall, yes, of course they have delivered wonderfully over recent years. But in allowing their discipline to slip so far, they haven't done so this season -- and on Sunday at a critical time. O'Callaghan and O'Gara let down their team-mates in Toulon -- there's no other way of putting it.
Have the overseas players delivered for Munster?
Yes and no. Doug Howlett and, before him, Trevor Halstead have been great successes. They bought into the culture. But Jean de Villiers was a huge letdown last season. He never seemed to settle, never seemed to have his mind completely focused on the job. But you wonder why Munster bought him in the first place, when it had been obvious for at least 24 months that John Hayes was struggling against the best and Munster needed a world-class tight-head prop to anchor the scrum.
Is this the end of the line, or is there a next generation set to take over?
Write off Munster long term? No thanks, I won't have that yoke wrapped around my neck for the next 10 years! When you have such a spirit, such a proud record, I would never dismiss their chances of more glory years. They may not have the playing numbers of Leinster, but they have a vibrant pride in the jersey. And that will always count for a huge amount. But the rebuilding process now needed won't be done overnight. And Munster must choose more carefully the overseas players they bring in.
Is Tony McGahan the right man to take Munster forward?
Yes, I believe so; I think he has the ability. You could argue he might have acted sooner and more decisively when the signs of decline were there. But it is never easy axing long-term favourites, players who have served loyally for years. But now there are no excuses and the process must begin. McGahan deserves to be given the chance to do that job. And let's not start talking of sacking him if they lose a few games next season and don't qualify for next year's Heineken quarter-finals either. A big job like this needs time and patience. That's the problem with having left it so long and not starting the job earlier.