David Wallace explains why Munster have become a 'fearsome outfit' ahead of new season
Of course everyone enjoys the summer months but the expectation builds gradually towards September and it all culminates with the beginning of a new PRO14 campaign.
The Cheetahs and Southern Kings from South Africa will certainly spice things up and it was badly needed, as the league looks to compete with the cash-rich Top14 and Aviva Premiership in Europe.
Ulster and Scarlets are the first two sides that will get to pit their wits against their South African opponents, and it will be intriguing to see how the Celtic teams fare in that company.
For Munster it’s back to basics this weekend with Treviso visiting Cork, but there is a certain degree of uncertainty languishing around the province.
Rassie Erasmus’s departure seemed inevitable after the way things materialised last year, his stock rose massively in the face of adversity and the way he helped the team to bounce back in the PRO12 and in Europe.
He will leave Munster on a better footing but the problem is whether the team can put that to the back of their minds and focus on the action on the field.
You certainly can’t begrudge Rassie going. It’s a massive opportunity for him and Jacques Nienaber to coach and represent their country. But Munster need to try and find their successor now.
It does sound like they’re trying to impart their knowledge to Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones, even allowing them to take control of some training sessions, so it’s not as big of a change as it might have been.
That is so important, and it’s seems that they are very methodical and pragmatic in doing what’s best for Munster.
But fair dues to Rassie, Munster were lucky to have his services last season especially with the way things turned out.
It was a massive learning curve for the team, and it’s important to recreate that momentum and belief, in pushing themselves to accept higher standards, that will be paramount to having a good season.
The squad has been improved upon massively in pre-season with Chris Farrell, JJ Hanrahan, James Hart, Chris Cloete and Gerbrandt Grobler coming in to add their vast skills and experience.
Farrell’s potential partnership with Jaco Taute is an awesome physical prospect while Hanrahan and Hart add a great deal of depth. Cloete and Grobler are two beasts and the latter’s link-up with Jean Kleyn in the second-row could be a major boost.
When you top that off with the eight-nine-ten axis that is already there with CJ Stander, Conor Murray and Tyler Bleyendaal, and Keith Earls and Simon Zebo on the wings, Munster look to be a fearsome outfit. But there are many variables at play ahead of the start of the 2017-18 season, new teams and players will make for compelling viewing as the early rounds play out.
Despite all that happened last season, Munster still reached a Champions Cup semi-final, and they made the decider in the PRO12. The foundations are there to make a push for silverware this time around and the new recruits will need to hit the ground running.
I believe Scarlets are the favourites to win the first PRO14 after what they did at the end of last season, and with the addition of Leigh Halfpenny.
But lots of players have come and gone and it will be exciting to see how they bed in across the board.
Munster have brought in some serious talent for 2017-18 and the age profile of their team is promising.
Although it’s a young squad there are vast levels of experience there and it could be the perfect dynamic this time around.
Mike Sherry is back and available after such a long spell out. He adds so much to the front row and there are a lot of options at hooker which can only be a good thing.
It’s been a very long time since the back-three options were so plentiful and it all bodes well for the latter stages of the various competitions later on.
But for now Munster need to worry about negotiating the challenge of Treviso before they can worry about the bigger challenges around the corner.