Sunday 21 January 2018

Further uncertainty threatens Munster's progress

Munster Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Another week of uncertainty for Munster.

Just as another new coach begins to get his feet settled under his desk, one of his star players decides to up sticks and leave.

A steady start in domestic and European fare admirably papers over the growing cracks but there remains some unease at Munster's ability to repeat last season's efforts or, as is their desire, to surpass them.

"Hopefully, that is the way it is going to progress under Johann, we'll keep going that way," says Conor Murray.

"From my point of view, from the way we played last year, Rassie probably did strip it back, went back to basics and got us quite far.

"But to get an edge for those big knockout games and beat teams like Saracens, we need more.

"We've developed though. Felix is doing really well with us. He has given us the licence to express yourself in your own half."

Losing Zebo will limit this scope given Murray's acknowledgement of his ability but although he represents a massive loss to the province, the Lions star believes Munster can cope with that and the coaching transition.

They must.

"Zeebs leaving is a massive thing for Munster. It will be talked about for a while and who'll replace him," reasons Murray. "As a player he's special, isn't he? He's X-factor, he gets the crowd going, plays with a smile on his face.

"To replace an all-round person like that - playing ability, personality, good mate - is going to be very difficult. No more Zebo chants. The lads playing with him in the back three at the minute know how good he is. That's a point they're going to want to prove.

"I'm good mates with Andrew Conway as well, who's been really pushing Zeebs and is doing really well.

"So whoever's handed the 15 jersey, they're going to feel pressure definitely because he's such a crowd favourite, people love what he does.

"But our back three is loaded with quality, but when you have someone who is that special and he leaves it's obviously going to leave a hole. It'll be a big one to fill.

"And with Donnacha Ryan leaving, Gerhard Grobler and Jean Kleyn injured, it's been a little unsettled.

"But performance-wise we've been going well over the last couple of weeks. The coaching transition isn't ideal.

"I'm not going to lie to you and say we'll get through it and we'll keep going - that's our plan and Johann is over that, and we met him and he seems really good.

"That transition, we're going to try our best to make it as smooth as possible, but it's going to be challenging."

Rassie Erasmus has named a strong line-up - as has his Connacht counterpart Kieran Keane but despite their recent European double, the Westerners have just one league win to their name.

Verdict: Munster

Connacht - T O'Halloran; D Leader,B Aki, T Farrell, C Kelleher; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham; U Dillane, J Cannon; E McKeon, J Butler, Muldoon (capt). Reps: D Heffernan, D Coulson, C Carey, Q Roux, E Masterson, C Blade, C Ronaldson, N Adeolokun.

Munster - S Zebo; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, R Marshall, J Ryan; M Flanagan, B Holland; P O'Mahony (capt), T O'Donnell, CJ Stander.

Reps: K O'Byrne, L O'Connor, S Archer, S McCarthy, J O'Donoghue, D Williams, JJ Hanrahan, D Sweetnam.

Ref - N Owens (WRU)

Connacht v Munster, Live, TG4, 7.35

Irish Independent

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