Three months after the untimely death of Munster rugby’s beloved coach and captain, the effect of the loss of Anthony Foley seems to have revived the club’s competitive edge. Exceptional displays of skill and force, have driven Munster towards a European cup and domestic league challenge. Following an abysmal few years, which saw Munster underachieving in both competitions, a real sense of optimism surrounds the red jersey heading into the knockout phase of the Champions Cup.
This run of form has reignited the passion of the Munster faithful, one of the proudest sporting families in the world, and the crowd have been an integral cog in this revived Munster machine.
European games have always been special occasions at Thomond Park, and wins against Glasgow and Leicester, as well as an emotional victory in the rescheduled Racing 92 match, sent Munster to the top of their pool, and near certain qualification. The defeat to old rivals Leicester in the return game was unlucky, and neither side played to their full potential. The victory in Glasgow sends Munster into the knockout stages once again, and a home game against a despairing Racing side should see Munster finish in style.
Domestically Munster have been on fire too, as all three derby games against the Irish provinces ended with Munster victories. The side will face stiff competition from Leinster and Ospreys for the top spot, but few would be surprised if Munster come out on top in the coming months.
Over the course of the last few years, Munster have struggled to find their best line-up. Ian Keatley has been disappointing since taking over from O’Gara, and there have been many shuffles and changes in the wing and centre positions. In recent months Munster have found a system and a group of players who understand each other’s games marvellously. Tyler Bleyendaal has outshone Keatley with ease, and is fast becoming a fan favourite. Simon Zebo has established himself as a world class fullback. Rory Scannell and Jaco Taute have dovetailed beautifully in the centre, one with a light touch and delicate skill, the other an endless source of brute force and determination. Darren Sweetnam has settled in about as well as anyone could have asked for, and magnificent aerial ability and pace have made him a sure starter. Conor Murray needs no introduction as the commander-in-chief of the squad. The forward pack is as good as it has been in years and they specialise in set piece tries. The back row of O’Mahony, Stander, and O’Donnell have drawn comparisons with the legendary trio of Quinlan, Foley, and Wallace, which truly is the highest of praise for any Munster men.
Hope has been rekindled in the hearts of the Red Army, and Munster seem to be on the glory trail. If the squad can continue to assert themselves as they have done recently, it will be hard for any team to come between them and the trophy.