MUNSTER crashed out of the inaugural Champions Cup on Saturday after the province suffered its heaviest defeat in Europe for 19 years.
The 33-10 defeat at the hands of Saracens at Allianz Park leaves Munster with plenty of soul-searching to do ahead of Sunday’s ‘dead’ rubber meeting with Sale Sharks at Thomond Park, 3.15pm.
Munster’s failure to qualify for the knock-out stages of European competition for only the second time in 17 seasons also raises questions over whether the province can regain the aura which made them two-time Heineken Cup winners in the past 10 years.
1. Pool of Death
FROM the moment the draw was made for the pool stages of the competition, it was obvious Munster were not going to have a straight forward path to the knock-out stages. Pool 1 included three of the four semi-finalists from last season. Clermont, the French side in the pool, have a proud history in the competition and were always going to prove difficult opponents for Munster in Limerick. This Top 14 side would not roll over away from home.
Once Munster lost to Clermont in December, Anthony Foley’s men were facing an uphill battle. Winning home game is crucial to progressing in Europe.
2. Lack of Strength in Depth
INJURIES are part and parcel of professional rugby, but Munster have had more than their fair share this season. And the reality is that the province doesn’t have the strength in depth to cope with those losses. Take Conor Murray, Donnacha Ryan, Dave Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, Damien Varley, Andrew Smith, Gerhard van den Heever and Robin Copeland out of any side and they will struggle. Keith Earls is only coming back from injury as is James Cronin, while Tyler Bleyendaal was due to join the squad last autumn, but injury has delayed that. Throw in the fact that CJ Stander had to go off injury inside the opening half an hour on Saturday. Difficult gaps to fill.
3. Financial Loss
At their AGM, held last June, Munster revealed the glamour Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Toulouse at Thomond Park in April 2014 generated more than €450,000 in profit after the French side and the IRFU’s share from the fixture was paid out. Hospitality and sponsors bonuses played a major part in making the quarter-final lucrative in addition to the gate income. There won’t be any home quarter-final for Munster this season.
4. Struggle to Attract Big Names
CONNACHT’S ability to attract Players of the calibre of former All-Black legend Mils Muliaina, even in the twilight of his career, and former Chiefs centre Bundee Aki, raised a few eyebrows in Munster at the start of the season.
In the past when Munster brought in overseas signings, they regularly acquired the services of frontline, seasoned internationals. Think Christian Cullen, Doug Howlett, Jean de Villiers and Jim Williams. Unable to match the budgets of top French and English clubs, Munster have been forced more and more to take a punt on less experienced, largely untested players when bolstering their squad. Some of those signings have paid dividends, but Munster need to bring in a couple of seasoned international stars, especially in the midfield sector. Munster need to spend their money smartly when recruiting. Big names generate excitement among supporters and help drive ticket sales.
5. Lack of Tries
Munster have struggled to score tries in Europe this season and that lack of scoring power came back to haunt them. The side has managed just six tries in five European Champions Cup games this season, the lowest tally of the competing sides in Pool 1.
Indeed. only pool five whipping boys Benetton Treviso have scored fewer tries in the competition this season and the Italians are only one behind Munster with five tries.