Colm Kinsella was in Musgrave Park on Saturday to watch Munster’s win over Edinburgh. He he picks out five of the main talking points.
1. Penny drops with game plan
The Munster players are becoming more adept at implementing Rob Penney’s game plan in their second season using it. In the early stages of last season there were several occasions when players appeared to pass the ball out along the Munster backline for the sake of it, rather than asking any serious questions of the opposition defence. As a result the unfortunate player on the wing ended up being shuffled into touch. All too lateral and easy to defend against. While this seasons is still very much in its infancy there are already encouraging signs of Munster players having mastered Penney’s preferred style of play. Key to that has been an improvement in the patience and accuracy the players have showed in possession. Munster players weren’t always accurate last season and it hindered their progress.
2. Filling O’Gara’s boots
Finding an exact replacement for the departed Ronan O’Gara was simply going to be impossible, but in Ian Keatley and JJ Hanrahan, Munster boast two exciting, talented and effective out-halves who bring their own style of play to the table.
Keatley is the man in possession of the 10 shirt through the early part of the season and has been in excellent form, scooping the Man of the Match accolade in Saturday’s win over Edinburgh. He manages the game well in the pivotal out-half berth and poses a constant running threat with ball in hand as well as being an accurate kicker.
UL-Bohs clubman Hanrahan is snapping away at his heels and the keen competition for the 10 shirt can only benefit the province. Hanrahan has scored a try in each of his last three appearances and is sure to see plenty of game time in the upcoming PRO12 fixtures in Italy against Zebre and Treviso.
3. Strength in depth
One of the aspects of Munster’s early season form has been the impressive form of some of the province’s younger brigade prior to the return of their Irish internationals and Lions stars.
Prop James Cronin bagged a try on his competitive debut against Edinburgh on Saturday night, while Ronan O’Mahony has impressed on the wing. Ivan Dineen has formed a solid midfield partnership with Casey Laulala, while James Downey is sidelined by injury.
The likes of Dave Foley and Dave O’Callaghan also impressed at Musgrave Park on Saturday night. Munster need to continue picking up wins in the PRO12 while their Irish international stars are absent.
4. Back-row battle
For several seasons the back-row trio of Quinlan, Wallace and Foley appeared to pick itself, but times have changed at Munster. Competition for game time in the back-row is fierce. This time last season, Tommy O’Donnell was starring with UL-Bohs in the Limerick Charity Cup. He went on to become a crucial member of the back-row in the marquee fixtures later in the season. Peter O’Mahony - as team captain - is a safe bet to start the crunch upcoming fixtures with Leinster and Heineken Cup pool matches. James Coughlan has started the season well and is the frontrunner to start at number eight. But when you consider the likes of CJ Stander, Niall Ronan, Sean Dougall, Paddy Butler, Barry O’Mahony and Dave O’Callaghan are also in the mix to start, then you get some idea of the serious competition for starting places in the sector.
5. Putting win in perspective
Picking up a maximum five-point haul in their opening fixture was the perfect way for Munster to begin their RaboDirect campaign. However, the victory should be put in context. Edinburgh were also missing several big name stars, including the likes of Greig Laidlaw, captain Tim Visser and Matt Scott. New manager Alan Solomons only started in the last month and their backs coach was only appointed a week back. Munster have a good record against Edinburgh but getting them early in the season, when their preparation was disrupted, was certainly a help.
Munster head to Italy this week for back-to-back fixtures against Zebre and Treviso in the RaboDirect PRO12 as well as a week-long training camp near Lake Garda. Munster suffered a 34-10 thumping and the hands of Treviso in Italy last season and scraped a two-point win over Zebre, 27-25 on the final day of the regular season. No room for complacency, then.