Munster facing uphill task to qualify for Champions Cup

Colm Kinsella

Reporter:

Colm Kinsella

Munster facing uphill task to qualify for Champions Cup

MUNSTER face an uphill task to qualify for next season’s European Champions Cup as well as the top four play-offs in the Guinness Pro12.

Anthony Foley’s charges languish in seventh place in the Guinness Pro12 table, with eight regular season fixtures to go.

Should the current Pro12 table stand at the end of the season, Munster wouldn't qualify for next season's Champions Cup and would also miss out on a semi-final place in the Pro12.

The seven highest-ranked clubs in the Guinness Pro12 based on their finishing positions in the league qualify for next season’s European Champions Cup. However, the seven qualifiers must include at least one club from each of Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.

While Munster lie seventh in the table, the province wouldn’t qualify for the 2016/2-17 Champions Cup because there is no Italian side above them in the table at present.

Munster have just eight regular season games to turn things round. Munster are currently on 38 points and it has taken an average of 55 points over the past three seasons to finish in the top six.

Munster have been ever-present in Europe’s top club rugby competition since its inception but have failed to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup for the past two seasons.

In relation to making the top four play-offs in the Guinness Pro12, Munster face an uphill battle. The province sits eight points outside the top four play-offs with as many games to go.

Munster face a critical run of Guinness Pro12 fixtures in the coming weeks with four games against clubs which are lying in the bottom half of the table at present.

Munster kick-off that run with an away tie against 12th-placed Benetton Treviso, before hosting the Dragons, tenth, on March 5 at Thomond Park.

Next up is an away game with ninth-placed Cardiff Blues on Friday, March 18, before last season’s Guinness Pro12 finalists host Zebre on Good Friday.

Munster are likely to need to secure four wins in that run to be in the hunt for a top four spot heading into a difficult looking four-game run in to their regular season.

Munster’s final four Pro12 fixtures are against clubs sitting comfortably in the top half of the table.

Munster travel to Dublin to face second-placed Leinster on April 2, before heading West to Galway to take on leaders Connacht on April 16.

On April 29, Munster are at home to fifth-placed Edinburgh, before completing their programme of games with another home tie, this time against third placed Scarlets on May 7.

Last season, Munster were able to enjoy the financial benefits of securing a home semi-final in the Pro12. However, securing a top two finish looks a very tall order for Anthony Foley’s charges even with a little over one third of the regular season to come. Munster are preparing for Sunday’s crucial Pro12 test away to Treviso at Stadio Monigo, 2pm Irish time.

FOLEY’S UPDATE ON FUTURE

MUNSTER coach Anthony Foley has insisted no decision has been made yet on whether he will take up the option of a one-year contract extension with the province.

Foley revealed that he had met with Munster CEO Garrett Fitzgerald yesterday, Tuesday, but the head coach was not in a position to make any announcement about his future plans.

Foley’s two-year term as head coach ends this summer, but Munster have agreed to an option for the former number eight to remain at the helm for another season.

Foley said: “Nothing has been confirmed there as yet.  I  sat down with Garrett (Fitzgerald) this morning and when there’s something to be announced it will be announced.”

Asked about Munster’s plans to appoint a Director of Rugby for the first time in 2017, Foley deflected the question, saying the matter was one for Munster CEO Fitzgerald.