Tony Ward - (Former Irish international out-half. Irish Independent Rugby columnist)
Published 19/01/2011 | 05:00
Have Tony McGahan and his staff delivered for Munster?
With the Holy Grail of European rugby -- the Heineken Cup -- eluding him in his three seasons as head coach, the answer must be no. McGahan is a shrewd operator. Watching him up close before the All Blacks game in Limerick two years ago, I was impressed. The objectives he sets are realistic and the respect between coach and players is mutual. Against that, even allowing for nature taking its course, the brand has regressed. It appears in urgent need of refreshment and, specifically, a greater hands-on role for Anthony Foley, who could take the new generation of Munster forwards back to the fundamental values which made the province so great.
Have the senior players delivered for Tony McGahan?
Clearly nowhere near as much as McGahan would have liked. There continues an over-reliance on Paul O'Connell and in his absence, with the exception of his direct replacement Mick O'Driscoll, it is difficult to identify a true leader. Jerry Flannery is the only other with the traits required and he can lose it. While Ronan O'Gara was sin-binned wrongly on Sunday in Toulon, the mere fact he was involved in a skirmish with Pierre Mignoni raises questions. Far too often he gets sidetracked by personal spats. The same applies to Denis Leamy, the official captain, and to Donncha O'Callaghan -- not good enough for such a vastly experienced forward. His (so-called professional) foul and yellow card on Sunday was rank stupidity.
Have the overseas players delivered for Munster?
As with any professional set-up, some yes some no. Wian du Preez has been average in an average Munster scrum. Doug Howlett continues to be the stand-out overseas signing and most consistent performer, although, like the rest, much too easily snuffed out on Sunday. In his defence he was given few opportunities by those inside. The midfield has been disappointing since Lifeimi Mafi and Rua Tipoki were in their pomp. There is no settled pairing, and here again discipline is a problem, as both Mafi and Sam Tuitupou have been deservedly suspended and it has cost Munster dear. It is a recurring theme which suggests a more deep-rooted problem. The other shining light has been Paul Warwick, whose loss will be incalculable.
Is this the end of the line, or is there a next generation set to take over?
The conveyor belt of emerging talent is working every bit as efficiently in the south as it is in the east. The trick is in combining the old with the new and Joe Schmidt is showing the way, given the manner he has handled the step up for so many at Leinster so consistently and so seamlessly. For McGahan the disappointment of Sunday's defeat should lead to a reassessment, with the young players who dug so deep against the Wallabies in November coming to the fore now. The absence of so many of the established elite to the Six Nations squad should help. The Munster train may be off the rails, but it is by no means the end of the line.
Is Tony McGahan the right man to take Munster forward?
Yes, because he has what it takes in terms of personality and ambition. He knows and understands Munster rugby but a shake-up, with Foley stepping up ahead of Laurie Fisher, be it now or at the season's end, would undoubtedly help. There is a middle line between technical efficiency and traditional Munster forward play from the heart. It would appear that the balance has tilted in favour of the former. Beyond that, the jury remains out on backs coach Jason Holland.