Expect the unexpected in Munster war
Change in format guarantees twists and turns as big guns face uncertain road, writes Tony Ward
As with Leinster and the introduction of the open draw last season, the Munster Schools committee have opted for a change in format for 2014.
Round 1 remains unchanged though, as, even if they lose, every school will get a second bite at the biggest underage prize on offer in the province.
In recent years, the route to the semi-finals and final has been mapped out well in advance and schools could plan their strategy accordingly.
That is no longer the case, with a new second qualifying round seeding system in place. An open draw (as in Ulster and Leinster) will now be made, with the four winners from the first round having home advantage in the second and the losers having to travel.
An open draw will also be made before the semi-finals, thereby introducing a whole new element in terms of surprise. It's true knockout rugby and is sure to make this year's Munster Schools Senior and Junior Cups even more enthralling.
It looks as though this will be the system for U-16 and U-19 level from now on.
PBC, who last won the Senior Cup in 2010, had the advantage of an extra match as they played Bandon in the qualifier, and now face St Munchin's in Qualifying Round 1 following their 15-9 victory.
So, who is going to lead the charge this year? Well, with Crescent blowing away all before them in 2013, not least treble-chasing Rockwell College in a mighty final performance, the signs are that the Dooradoyle school will be in at the business end once again.
Granted, their form of late has been sketchy, but this team is comprised of the Junior Cup-winning side from two years ago, as well as some left over from last year.
Indeed, great Crescent stalwart and former senior coach Don Reddan (dad of Eoin) is extremely optimistic about rugby in the school right now from U-13 up.
Quite whether they are Senior Cup contenders once again remains to be seen; certainly an opening clash with a very strong Christians side will tell us a hell of a lot.
Backboned by a fair smattering of U-18 and U-19 inter-pros, Ardscoil Ris could well be the dark horses in this campaign.
You would, of course, expect CBC (Junior Cup winners in 2012 – beating Ardscoil in the final) and Rockwell (boasting another very strong pack in a squad littered with representative players) to be the early pacesetters.
Christians can match Rockwell in terms of forward strength and that could prove decisive in the long run.
Glenstal face Ardscoil in the opening qualifying round and though lacking in both numbers and strength in depth, they will give it a right good go, as they always do. Pres are strong enough to take down a typically tough Corbally side in an intriguing collision.
It will be tight, but Pres look to have just enough.
Castletroy, much like PBC, field a side bolstered by quite a number of talented young players from last year's Junior Cup-winning side. That said, Rockwell should prove much too powerful in the opening round.
Pres, though relatively young, are talented enough to challenge, so at this distance, it looks like Christians (CBC), Rockwell, Crescent, Pres (PBC) and Ardscoil will make a genuine impact, with Munchin's also a real threat.That leaves Castletroy and Glenstal very much the outsiders.
Much will depend on what the new rolling draw throws up, but the cream, as ever, will rise to the top.
Take Ardscoil, Rockwell, PBC and CBC to be in the winners pot after round one, but watch out for Crescent coming up on the rail thereafter.
As to the outright winner in Munster, given the nature of the new draw, your guess is as good as mine.