Sport Munster Rugby

Saturday 20 September 2014

Axel must get Reds to kick on

Denis Leamy

Published 23/05/2014 | 02:30

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The time has almost come for Anthony Foley to take centre stage in Munster with Rob Penney's departure
The time has almost come for Anthony Foley to take centre stage in Munster with Rob Penney's departure

It may have been a very disappointing end to the season, but already the focus has switched to the new campaign and there is a lot of excitement about Axel taking over and bringing an indigenous coaching team with him.

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In many ways, this is really the start of a new era with the first wave of players who came through the professional era becoming coaches.

It's not just in Munster, you have Leo Cullen finishing up playing in a couple of weeks and then taking over as forwards coach in Leinster.

It is a great vote of confidence to all those here who are going down the coaching route and I know it myself, having also followed that path.

For a long time, it was all foreign coaches, not just in the head job, but also in the other management positions. That, however, is now slowly starting to change and Axel has assembled a great team.

They know the task that faces them, but these are guys who love a challenge and will rise to it, and they need no introduction to the set-up.

I've often thought that no matter how good a foreign coach is, it will take him a year to 18 months to get settled and make a mark.

I think Rob Penney achieved an awful lot in his couple of years, even though silverware was not captured, and I think Axel is taking over Munster in a far better position than when Rob did two years ago.

CONTINUE

One of the key decisions he will have to make is whether to revert to the old Munster style of mauling or continue the more expansive game which Rob developed.

There is no doubt that when the players clicked and played the way that Rob wanted them to, they had a serious ability to inflict damage on teams and that won't have gone unnoticed with the lads when they are deciding to continue that or revert to the traditional way.

The standards have gone up all around Europe and it's harder now than ever to win the Heineken Cup, but I don't think there are many in Munster who would be prepared to settle for good semi-final displays being enough.

The group that's there now have a lot of game time under their belt. I've heard a lot from them about creating their own legacy, and it is now time for them to kick on and deliver on that.

Axel is taking over a relatively young squad but guys have got a lot of experience under Penney in the last couple of seasons and that should stand to them.

Brian Walsh, Jerry Flannery, Ian Costello and Mick O'Driscoll will bring a lot to the table next year and I would imagine there will be a great buzz building up to the start of the new campaign.

Yet, the way the team fell off in the final weeks of the season will be a big worry. A lot seems to have been invested in the match against Toulon and the performance against an understrength Ulster side really set the alarm bells ringing.

Glasgow Warriors have made a lot of progress in recent years, but all of that was in the league and the reality is that at a time when Munster were going close to winning Heineken Cup semi-finals, Glasgow were making no impression in the competition.

Munster had plenty of opportunities to win the semi-final last week, but could not keep it together to get across the line and it was just another very disappointing way to let the season fizzle out.

I feel the next two seasons are absolutely crucial for Munster. There is a danger that with things having improved, it now reaches a plateau. But that can't be as good as it gets. There needs to be progress, big progress in the next couple of seasons if Munster are to be a force.

But there should be plenty of optimism by the time the start of the new season comes around. We will see in a couple of weeks who they will have in their pool in Europe and that might shape a lot of the season.

I have no doubt that Axel and the lads will have them fired up for the start of the campaign and will want to hit the ground running. I won't be doing any running myself for some time as I have just undergone a hip replacement, but I'll go into more detail on that at a later stage. But thanks very much to everyone for all the good wishes.

And as this is the final column for this season, I hope everyone has a great summer, and before we know it we will be stuck into the new campaign, and off and running once again.

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