MUNSTER’S bitterly disappointing 31-13 Guinness PRO12 final defeat to Glasgow Warriors at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday night has provided plenty of food for thought for the province’s players, management team and supporters.
1. O’Connell insists ‘great time’ to leave
After 14 seasons, Saturday night’s final was Paul O’Connell’s last outing in the red of Munster.
Reports suggest that the talismanic second row will be playing with French Top 14 side Toulon next season. O’Connell believes the time is right to leave the province.
“I will miss Munster a lot. It’s a great time to go, I think, because I am enjoying it more than ever. I get on great with the lads. I think the coaching staff are excellent. They are getting better and better.
“I’ve had a great time. I kinda knew in the back of my mind I was going to retire from Munster and Ireland after the World Cup, so I have been at ease with it for a while. It strange when you stop and think about it, it feels strange.”
2. Battle for number 10 shirt
Given that JJ Hanrahan’s game-time for Munster has been limited to cameo roles towards the end of fixtures in recent months, it was intriguing to see head coach Foley turn to the Northampton-bound out-half to pull the game out of the fire with just over a quarter of the game still to run in Saturday’s final. Head coach Anthony Foley obviously believed Hanrahan provided the best hope of sparking Munster to life in a high stakes Cup final. Ian Keatley won’t have been happy to have been called ashore and it will be interesting to see if Keatley or fit-again Tyler Bleyendall is first choice out-half for Munster next season.
3. Absent Irish internationals
INJURIES, especially at the business end of the season, are common place in professional rugby. However, while Munster had been fortunate on the injury front through the closing weeks of the regular season, the province was hit hard by injuries to international scrum-half Conor Murray and team captain Peter O’Mahony during their semi-final win over Ospreys. The pair were two of just three ever-present Munster members of Joe Schmidt’s 6 Nations winning squad. Both are hugely influential players and Munster felt their loss hugely in Belfast on Saturday night. And of course flanker Tommy O’Donnell, who also featured for Ireland in the 6 Nations, was another absentee through injury.
4. Poor kicking game
Munster will be bitterly disappointed and frustrated with how their kicking game failed them on Saturday night. The one side in the Guinness PRO12 that you don’t want to kick poorly to are the Warriors who are more than happy to run the ball back at you from all parts of the pitch. The likes of Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour and DTH Van der Merve love nothing more than to pin their ears back and have a cut with ball in hand. And Munster’s inaccurate kicking gave the Scottish every chance to launch counterattacks. Keatley’s failure to find touch with one clearance kick in the first half led to Van der Merwe bagging the Warriors second try on 26 minutes.
5. Munster’s set-piece excels
There were few positives on a bitterly disappointing night for Munster, but one area where Foley’s men excelled was in set-piece play, especially at scrum time. Munster’s front row forwards might have found themselves caught out in the middle of the pitch facing mis-matches with Glasgow backs running at them on several occasions, but in the confines of the scrum, Munster were masters. Munster’s forward pack won the scrum battle over the 80 minutes while the line-out functioned very effectively throughout. Both scum and line-out proved a reliable source of possession for Munster. The side’s shortcomings in the lay elsewhere on this occasion.