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Change will come in the provinces and seep up to Irish team

 

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Dave Kilcoyne in action for Ireland against New Zealand in last October's World Cup quarter-final. Photo: Juan Gasparini/Sportsfile

Dave Kilcoyne in action for Ireland against New Zealand in last October's World Cup quarter-final. Photo: Juan Gasparini/Sportsfile

Dave Kilcoyne in action for Ireland against New Zealand in last October's World Cup quarter-final. Photo: Juan Gasparini/Sportsfile

This has been one of the toughest weeks in a while for Irish rugby, but Ireland's misfortune is definitely Munster's gain.

I'm sure the 12 Munster players are devastated after their World Cup adventure ended against New Zealand at the quarter-final stages, but they are due back with the province in early November - plenty of time to settle back in, familiarise themselves with the new coaches and be primed again for what will be a huge Heineken Cup test.

As Johann van Graan mentioned this week, the mental challenge facing his players is a significant one, but I think they will be a little bit relieved to return to familiar surroundings and get back on the training ground at UL.

For Joe Schmidt, his time as Irish coach is now in the past and you'd really feel sorry for the way it has finished for him.

He is not the first coach to have a World Cup end in disappointment. But the fact that he has done so much for the game here and that the last few years promised so much makes it all the more disappointing for everyone.

Stamp

Andy Farrell makes the step up into the head coach position and he has the chance to put his own stamp on things. Having Mike Catt coming in from outside the group is vital. This sequence of results will give Farrell licence to change things radically, if that's what he feels is needed.

And I think that change will come in the provinces first. Stephen Larkham is already in with Munster and the early signs point towards a more expansive game-plan this season.

Even the Munster 'A' team look to be playing with great depth and fluidity with frequent offloading in their game.

Looking back at the last few weeks, some of the Munster players will be coming home quite frustrated with the amount of game-time they were given.

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In my opinion loyalty to players was a big factor in the selection of the team to play New Zealand. When replacements were made they brought something different to the game and maybe the outcome could have been a bit better with a fresher 15.

On the positive side, some of those players will return to the red shirt in good physical condition. Andrew Conway and Tadhg Beirne impressed me hugely when they featured.

Chris Farrell was fantastic whenever he played and I felt he could have been given another chance. He went off against Japan with a concussion and it probably denied him another chance with injuries and suspensions around him.

Above all, Dave Kilcoyne is a guy who should have been involved more. His form has been outstanding all year and every time he played he left an imprint on the action. Having him back, hungry and in form is a huge boost for Munster - especially with James Cronin back fit again too.

The hunger of these lads all bodes well for the province, especially when you consider the bright start they have made to the PRO14. There was one blip against Cheetahs, who seem to be a different team this year with Ruan Pienaar at the rudder, but against Dragons and Kings I was mightily impressed.

They have been forced to blood a lot of young guys into the senior squad with the lads away at the World Cup and that has had a knock-on effect with the 'A' team too when plenty of the academy players have had their chances.

Some of the seasoned players too have gotten off to a great start. I thought Arno Botha has been excellent. I don't know if it's all down to the tight haircut, but he looks leaner, and his handling has improved too. Either side of him, Tommy O'Donnell and Jack O'Donoghue are on form, while there was some good news surrounding Chris Cloete's ankle injury.

When you add in the impact that Fineen Wycherley has made, Stephen Archer, Kevin O'Byrne, Jeremy Loughman and Shane Daly, the coaches will be very excited to see what they can deliver when the squad is reunited.

Tonight Irish Independent Park is sure to be rocking for the first competitive game of the season there, and I expect them to be given plenty to shout about against Ospreys.

Ten Ospreys players are still on World Cup duty, while they have also struggled massively with injuries during a poor start to their season. They were a little lucky to beat Benetton and had shipped big defeats to Leinster and Ulster before that.

From a Munster point of view, this is a great chance to get back to winning ways ahead of the return of the Ireland lads. The teams meet again in the first round of Europe and expect to see two very different match-day squads for that game, but those on duty tonight will want to deliver the first blow in that battle.

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