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Guinness Pro 14 Preview: Munster

The 2016-17 season was a great season for Munster. Following a poor showing the previous year, Munster returned to prominence. They finished the regular season at the top of the table, losing only three matches all season. During the Champions Cup, Munster had another great performance only losing one match during pool play to Leicester. They crushed their first round opponent, Toulouse, before ultimately falling to the Saracens in the semifinal.

This season, Munster will be looking to improve on their performance the only way they can, a Pro 14 championship. To make this happen, they will have to overcome some losses at key positions during the off-season.

Squad

Following last season, there were a number of losses to the team. Following failed negotiations, Donnacha Ryan left Munster to play for Racing 92 this season. Ryan’s departure is a big loss to the pack, as he was the lynch pin for the forwards. Francis Saili also departed during the off-season to play for the Harlequins in the Aviva Premiership. However, even with the losses, Munster has brought in some good talent to fill the voids.

Gerbrandt Grobler- Racing 92

In almost a one for one swap, lock Gerbrandt Grobler has come across from France to play for Munster this season. Last season, Grobler had 10 starts with Racing. He is a powerful forward and will be able to make an immediate impact for Munster this upcoming season, likely becoming the backup to Dave O’Callaghan, if not challenging for the starting role himself.

James Hart- Racing 92

In another addition from the French club, Hart will be joining Munster for the upcoming season. Last season. the scrum half started four matches for Racing, with his starts coming while Maxime Machenaud was away on international duties and serving his suspension at the beginning of the season. He will be coming to another team with a phenomenal starting scrum half in Conor Murray, but he will serve well as a backup.

JJ Hanrahan- Northampton

Although not his first time putting on the red jersey of Munster, Hanrahan has spent the past few years with the Northampton Saints. JJ Hanrahan is a competent fly half who started 10 matches for the Saints last season.

Expected Starting XV

  1. Dave Kilcoyne- 131 caps.
  2. Niall Scannell/Mike Sherry- 56 caps/95 caps. Niall Scannell started 21 matches last season. With Mike Sherry’s return following a year off with a back injury, he will be back in the rotation for hooker this upcoming season.
  3. John Ryan- 98 caps.
  4. Dave O’Callaghan- 75 caps. Following the departure of Donnacha Ryan, O’Callaghan is likely to take over the role that he left. Gerbrandt Grobler is another strong possibility of getting the starting nod and will undoubtedly get starts throughout the season.
  5. Billy Holland- 160 caps.
  6. Peter O’Mahony- 92 caps. Unfortunately for Munster fans everywhere, O’Mahony, like the rest of the British and Irish Lions, will not be playing for the first few matches of the season. All of the Lions will be given an extended break following their summer in New Zealand.
  7. Tommy O’Donnell- 142 caps.
  8. CJ Stander- 98 caps.  Stander will also miss the first few matches this season with Lions duty over the summer.
  9. Conor Murray- 100 caps. Conor Murray is one of the best scrum halves in the Northern Hemisphere. It will be another great season for Murray.
  10. Tyler Bleyendaal- 32 caps. With very limited caps before last season, Bleyendaal ended the season as the top points earner in the Pro 12. Hopefully, Ian Keatley will be able to make more of an impact this season, only starting nine matches last season. The addition of JJ Hanrahan will add more good depth for the team going into this season.
  11. Keith Earls- 141 caps.
  12. Rory Scannell- 54 caps.
  13. Jaco Taute- 26 caps. With his limited playing experience, it is very possible that Chris Farrell will get a number of starts this season with his good performance with Grenoble.
  14. Andrew Conway- 77 caps.
  15. Simon Zebo- 119 caps.

Schedule

Munster was blessed with one of the most favorable seasons for the Irish provinces. They play their most difficult cross conference match, Scarlets, at home. They start off their matches (the British and Irish Lions free ones) with a home match against Benetton Treviso. The only two cross conference matches away only will be against Edinburgh and the Southern Kings.

Coaching

Rassie Erasmus had a tremendous first season with Munster, taking them from their 6th place finish in 2015-16, to the finals this last year. Erasmus definitely found a way to quickly get Munster back on track. With Munster’s much-improved performance in the Champions Cup, he seems to be working through all the pieces to come up with a championship winning team for next season.

Outlook

Despite some losses in key areas Munster has everything it takes to make another run for the championship this year. Not just the Pro 14, but also the Champions Cup. They made the semifinals before losing to the Saracens this season, but may very well find the pieces to top the mountain this season. They are one of the best teams in all of Europe and will continue to be so this season.

 

 

 

 

Pro 14 Previews:

Connacht

Cardiff Blues

Zebre

Ulster

Edinburgh

Dragons

Cheetahs

Benetton Treviso

Leinster

Ospreys

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David Bradham

Active duty Navy, have a true passion for Rugby.
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