MUNSTER head to Leicester this weekend for a crucial Champions Cup clash hoping to avoid a fourth successive defeat since the closing stages of the 2009-2010 season.
Last weekend’s bitterly disappointing home defeat to the Tigers provided plenty of food for thought for the province’s players, management team and indeed supporters.
The official attendance at Thomond Park on Saturday was given as a little over 22,000. Unlike some of the previous fixtures, there was no figure given for the actual number of supporters inside the ground.
However, a figure of about 15,000-16,000 in attendance would be fair enough. It was a significant turnout by European Cup standards for many clubs, but not impressive by Munster standards. Late kick-off (7.45pm) for travelling fans and the wet weather all week probably played their part.
The ironic cheering which Ian Keatley was subjected to from a section of Munster supporters as he was subsituted late on in the game, has dominated much of the post-match analysis this week.
There are some supporters who insist the cheering was in fact directed at the Munster management team for not withdrawing Keatley earlier in the game.
Irrespective of who it was directed at, the cheers were hugely disrespectful to a player who has given his all in the Munster number 10 shirt, a jersey which was always going to be difficult to fill with the departure of Ronan O’Gara.
Keatley didn’t need disgruntled fans to tell him he didn’t play well. The incident was described as ‘pathetic’ and ‘disgraceful’ among other things by former Munster second row Trevor Hogan.
Munster responded by putting a statement on their website calling upon the province’s fans to show RESPECT for home and away supporters in Thomond Park. The move was hardly necessary although to be fair there have been ironic cheers – albeit not nearly as loud as on Saturday night – for Duncan Williams when the scrum-half was substituted on a few occasions in recent seasons.
The incidents didn’t capture as much public attention because the cheers weren’t as loud as those for Keatley and the games were not as high profile as Saturday.
The issue of Munster’s overseas recruitment raised its head at the weekend too. It was noticeable that one of Munster’s overseas signings, Gerhard van den Heever, found himself playing for the ‘A’ side on Friday night, while two more Mark Chisholm and Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino were on the replacements bench for Saturday’s Champions Cup tie.
It would have been three overseas players on the bench if Tyler Bleyendaal hadn’t been forced to cry off with a quad injury on Saturday morning. These players were brought in to make a game-changing impact in marquee fixtures, yet they weren’t able to force their way into the starting line-up at Thomond Park on Saturday.
It is always interesting to see how overseas visitors view their big match weekend experience in Limerick and the Tigers brought north of 800 fans to Thomond Park last weekend. The message boards on the Tigers official website was awash this week with Leicester supporters detailing their Limerick experience.
One such fan, Jack Flash Jonny wrote: “Wow what a weekend...Was great to finally go to Thomond Park. What a great venue the two big stands on either side give it a very impressive look..and it has a GBK burger van outside which was something special.
“The Munster fans were not what I expected though, but after speaking to many they are tired with the Munster team and how they are playing..thought there would be a lot more signing/noise than there was and the ground was at least a few thousand short of full capacity. Seems they are very much in a down period..hope they will be back soon just not next week.”