From injury worries to Rassie’s arrival: It’s your big Munster season preview

THE OFF-SEASON arrivals of Rassie Erasmus as director of rugby and Jacques Nienaber to the backroom team have lifted the spirits around Munster.

They head into a new campaign having scraped into the PRO12′s top-six last season, securing their berth in this year’s European Champions Cup.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Munster have only made the final of the domestic competition once in the last five years. Erasmus will need time to turn things around and mould the organisation in his image.

What’s changed?

Munster have been hit by the deflating loss of Francis Saili for four months with a shoulder injury, while Johnny Holland is out indefinitely due to a serious hamstring problem.

Erasmus hasn’t been terribly active in transfer market so far, but he did bring in Jean Kleyn who looks like a decent signing. Other arrivals include Sam Arnold from Ulster, Irish-qualified prop John Andress and former Worcester player Darren O’Shea. Meanwhile David Johnston, John Madigan, Sean McCarthy, Rory Scannell and Alex Wootton all join from the academy.

Finally, Tyler Bleyendaal made his return last weekend from an injury that left him sidelined since December.

Euro-vision

Munster supporters crave success in Europe and it’s been eight years since they last lifted the continent’s top prize. They’ve been handed a difficult pool, having been pitted against Leicester, Racing 92 and Glasgow Warriors. Bookmakers have placed Munster as third favourites in the pool. Ronan O’Gara will make his return to Thomond Park as part of Racing’s backroom team.

Munster are 50-1 to lift the Champions Cup in 2017, with 12 teams currently sitting ahead of them in the betting. Getting out of the pool would be a big achievement considering they’ll face the current French champions and Leicester Tigers, who’ve made a couple of high-profile captures in the summer.

Then you have Glasgow, who beat Munster in the 2015 Pro12 final. It’ll be a tough task for Munster.

Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Why they ought to be excited

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 New Zealander Bleyendaal was a big hit for Munster in their final pre-season warm-up game against Worcester, while Kleyn’s delivered a storming debut in the same game.

There’s a lot of doom and gloom around the southern province at the minute but Erasmus is highly-regarded and is aiming to shape a new era. Conor Murray started just five league games last season and in general this group of players are greatly motivated to rebound from last year’s disappointment.

Erasmus led the Cheetahs to three titles as head coach and helped transform the Stormers from Super Rugby’s perennial underachievers to genuine contenders.

Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Big concern

Attendances in Limerick have been plummeting over the past two seasons and Munster face a very difficult Champions Cup pool. Johnny Holland might be facing a premature retirement at just 24 as he continues to struggle with a hamstring problem.

27 May, are they Aviva-bound?

Munster are probably the fifth or sixth best team in the PRO12 right about now. Much depends on how they react this season. When Munster last failed to reach the domestic semi-finals in 2013, they bounced back to make the PRO12 last four and the Heineken Cup semi-finals the following year. While the latter is probably beyond this squad, they’ll fancy their chances of a top four finish in the former, and from there who knows?

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