Heineken Cup - Reasons for Munster fans to be fearful

Munster coach Rob Penney will have a decision to make at outhalf next season following the retirement of Ronan O'Gara
Munster’s form hasn’t been inconsistent, it’s been poor and for that reason it’s hard to see them beating Harlequins, writes Limerick Leader sports editor Steven Miller.

Munster’s form hasn’t been inconsistent, it’s been poor and for that reason it’s hard to see them beating Harlequins, writes Limerick Leader sports editor Steven Miller.

HOW times have changed. A couple of years back, this type of fixture would have had us all excited and we’d have seen the rugby season stretching out in front of us.

Now, we’re a bit worried and will look at Sunday’s Heineken Cup quarter-final more in hope than expectation.

There is a chance of course that Munster can turn in one of those manic, intense performances that was a trademark of the golden days.

There is a chance that Paul O’Connell will lead the way up front, that Ronan O’Gara will pull the strings from outhalf and that Munster will roll back the years, play from memory and apply so much pressure that Harlequins won’t be able to cope.

Coming off the back of a 51-24 loss to Glasgow - that admittedly looked worse on paper than it was in reality - Munster will surely come with a response.

Their season is over if they lose on Sunday. Already they’re out of contention in the RaboDirect PRO12 and if Harlequins do a number on them, then all Munster have to look forward to is the least-anticipated Leinster derby of recent times and two away games against the league’s worst teams - the Dragons and Zebre.

If Munster are ever going to put in a performance this season, it simply has to be this Sunday. Surely there is too much pride - and too much talent - in that Munster team to go down without a fight.

But, even giving the best display of the season, can Munster be trusted to cause a shock? We’ve got many doubts.

Munster have played 25 games this season and lost ten of them. You can hardly even say that Munster have been inconsistent. They’ve been mostly poor.

Even allowing for the fact that the RaboDirect can seem like a glorified B&I Cup at times, Munster’s form in it has been disappointing. In the games against Cardiff and the Scarlets in Cork, they were horrific. They were walloped by Treviso in Italy and even in the games they were well on top in, they’ve struggled to get the bonus point.

The Heineken Cup hasn’t been that much better - and none of their games were satisfactory. They were dreadful against Racing Metro in Paris and when they met again in Thomond Park, they were poor for long spells against a team that had little interest, had nothing to play for and had a man sent off in the early stages.

They might have eventually pulled clear to put 45 points on Edinburgh in Thomond but in the return game in Murrayfield, Munster couldn’t exert the control to claim the bonus point.

The two fixtures against Saracens should be a good reference. Munster were well up for the battle on both days but Owen Farrell’s kicking in Limerick let them off the hook and they had plenty of possession but very little inspiration when the game was there to be won in Vicarage Road a week later.

And what about Munster’s personnel? O’Connell’s return is a considerable boost but he has so little rugby behind him in the last year, how much can be expected of him? His heir, Donnacha Ryan, played through the pain barrier during the Six Nations while the likes of BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, and BJ Botha are waning powers.

James Downey and Casey Laulala haven’t hit the form they did at their previous clubs, Felix Jones hasn’t returned to be the player he was in 2011 and Munster are without their two of their greatest threats out wide, Keith Earls and captain Doug Howlett.

It’s not too much to expect a performance. But there’s too many doubts, too many questions and too many poor displays this year to expect a win.

We hope we’re wrong.