New faces and fit bodies have Munster ready
Bleyendaal, Saili and Chisholm need to stand up and be counted
Published 28/08/2015 | 02:30
Munster have lost their two pre-season games in Thomond Park but there's no need for any hysteria just yet. It's still pre-season and the Treviso game in Limerick on September 5 will hold far more importance.
At this stage of the year, you will see guys come into new systems and coaches experiment with different players and combinations.
It's never nice to lose a game at home, but in the Grenoble match it was a very young Munster team and they coped relatively well.
Against Connacht, Pat Lam had more of a squad to pick from with fewer Irish internationals away, but they seemed to out-maul and out-muscle Munster at the breakdown, which is a worry.
In the first couple of games it's always hard to ramp up the physicality and sometimes you can just be caught that bit cold.
When players get their few weeks off between seasons, the first while is downtime, but these days they stay in the gym to keep their fitness levels up.
But gym work is one thing, the collisions are a different matter, and they don't come until the end of pre-season when the first game is on the horizon.
Now that Munster have the game against Treviso in their sights, they need to be all guns blazing for a good hit-out against London Irish.
Munster's first Champions Cup fixture is also at home to Treviso at Thomond Park and they will aware of that in the season opener.
But it is no harm to have a couple of losses in pre-season to focus the mind, rather than that happening during the season proper.
Then you can have a look at where things are going wrong before it gets to the nitty-gritty of the important stuff. Going forward from here you would be looking for improvement.
A lot of pre-season is about getting guys game-time and having a look at them. It's a time where the result is not as important as how the team plays or how the individuals show up and link together.
More often than not teams kick to the corner rather than going for the posts, which shows how they are more focused on the bigger picture.
It's good to see Tyler Bleyendaal is fit and ready to go. He adds another dimension to the squad. He stepped up well against Grenoble and was involved in some nice moves.
His workrate, decision making and his ability to carry the ball are eye-catching. With JJ Hanrahan gone, Munster needed someone to fill the void.
Mark Chisholm and Francis Saili are the other big names looking to make an impression, and they are going to need to stand up and be counted - especially in the first few months when teams are without their World Cup contingent.
With those new recruits, Munster have more quality to choose from, while the return to fitness of Mike Sherry and Dave Foley is massive.
This time last year Munster had an abundance of talent in the No 2 jersey, but when Damien Varley had to retire after the recurrence of his foot injury they were short of options.
Duncan Casey stepped up really well, as did Kevin O'Byrne, but Sherry made a very welcome return against Connacht. The fact he scored a try was a great fillip after the lengthy lay-off he suffered.
Foley was very unlucky with how his season unravelled last term when, at times, he looked a shoo-in to be in the Irish squad for the Six Nations and then the World Cup.
But he's back now and himself and Donnacha Ryan are a great second-row combination. With Donncha O'Callaghan there as well they have great experience, while Chisholm could be a massive addition to the mix too.
My former team-mate Paul Warwick went to school with Chisholm and rates him very highly. Hopefully he will be a top player for Munster, but he has some massive boots to fill this year.
Paul O'Connell is irreplaceable of course - I was down in Toulon a couple of weeks ago and there is a buzz around the place in expectation of Paulie's arrival.
This is a chance for the younger guys in Munster to step up and make a name for themselves now and with the likes of Jack O'Donoghue coming through, I have no doubt they can.
Expect to see plenty of our lads on plane
It's crunch time now for the World Cup hopefuls and with Ireland travelling with massive expectations again, it will be one of the most hotly contested selections of all time.
Of course Tommy O'Donnell won't be in the reckoning after his horrifying hip injury against Wales.
I suffered a similar fate when I got injured against England prior to the last World Cup, but thankfully Tommy has a bit more youth on his side.
I wish him the best of luck in his recovery and I am sure he will come back to his best sooner rather than later and will be cheering the guys on.
From a Munster perspective, there are a few certainties to make the squad and they will act as the backbone for Joe Schmidt.
Paul O'Connell, Conor Murray and Peter O'Mahony are huge figures in this Irish squad and if they have big tournaments, the team should follow suit.
Then you have Donnacha Ryan and Keith Earls who are both also set to play their part.
Simon Zebo has really played himself into a spot on the plane and Dave Kilcoyne has performed admirably in the warm-up matches also.