OPINION: 5 Munster players to watch this upcoming season

Johann van Graan will lead his team into the new campaign which kicks off Saturday September 25th against Cell C Sharks in Thomand Park in the United Rugby Championship.

There is a lot to look forward to this season supporters of Munster ahead of the seasons resumption.

The return of Simon Zebo to the province, fans once again allowed to attend games and the exciting young talent coming through.

Munster has always been recognised as one of the powerhouses of European rugby yet, in recent years they haven’t reached the heights they may have wanted to, with a transitional period many would say has taking place over the past few years.

The rise of several English teams and French as well as old rivals Leinster coming into their own and enjoying success in years gone has left Munster trailing as of late.

However, clear progression over the past two seasons has now seen excitement surround the team as the potential in the squad will hopefully be highlighted this year.

Looking ahead to the season, five players have the potential to make the difference for the men in red which I highlight below.

Simon Zebo:

The return home has seen the mercurial star bring back experience and an added element of ability and raw talent to the squad.

The thirty-one-year old Cork man has re-joined the team from Racing 92. This can only serve as good news as the skilful finisher who made his debut for the province in April 2010.

Since then he has gone on to be selected for the British & Irish Lions as well as being capped by Ireland on thirty five occasions, demonstrating his wealth of know-how and experience.

He has currently 144 appearances for the Irish club side and sixty more for the Parisian club.

Despite his departure in 2018, Zebo remains Munster’s All-Time top try scorer, one ahead of current team mate Keith Earls.

The one year contract signed by Zebo will see his highly anticipated homecoming add a buzz around the club, following three years away from Thomand Park.

And the back will be looking to illustrate just what Munster have missed in that period of time. 

European Rugby Champions Cup Round 6, Thomond Park, Limerick 21/1/2018 Munster vs Castres Olympique Munster’s Simon Zebo scores a try Mandatory Credit @INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Craig Casey

Having shot onto the scene for the Munster Academy in 2017, Casey would soon go onto become a prodigy within the province with potential to be a world class talent in years to come.

He may be small in stature, but he plays big when it matters and has demonstrated his slick passing and quick ball movement, an attribute any team would be willing to have in their side.

The scrum-half collected the John McCarthy award for Academy Player of the Year in 2019 and has since gone to another level, which had been noticed by Andy Farrell as he gave the Limerick man his first international cap against Italy earlier this year.

2021 has been a brilliant one for the young star as he also signed a two year contract with the club alongside collecting the Young Player of the Year award. This season, we can expect big things from the former Ardscoil Rís pupil.

If Casey can continue the form that got him into both club and international sides, there is no reason why the 22-year-old cannot contest for a starting spot with Conor Murray.

5 March 2021; Craig Casey of Munster during the Guinness PRO14 match between Munster and Connacht at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Gavin Coombes

20 February 2021; Gavin Coombes of Munster in action during the Guinness PRO14 match between Edinburgh and Munster at BT Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by Paul Devlin/Sportsfile

Where to begin with Gavin Coombes?

The Corkman was awarded the Player of the Year for Munster last season, the youngest player to achieve the accolade.

A true example of everything the club stand for, fight, heart, intelligence and ability. The 23-year-old man was the highlight of the season for the province last year as he finished with 15 tries in 22 appearances, demonstrating astonishing statistics and performances, not to mention his ability to play beyond his years.

Coombes made his debut in September of 2018 and has since gone from strength to strength.

As such, Munster have tied down the prolific number eight who can also play as a flanker and lock forward until 2023.

Last season, Coombes also equalled the record within the province for most tries scored in a game.

It goes without saying that Coombes will be one to watch for the upcoming season and if he can reach the level and standard of last year going forward, not only do Munster have a real star player on their hands, but also Ireland and the British & Irish Lions in years to come.

Joey Carbery

Unfortunately, the New Zealand born out-half has had unfortunate luck with injuries throughout his career.

However, when fully fit, the 25-year-old is a tremendous player with supreme ability.

Following his move to Munster from rivals Leinster in 2018, he made his debut in September of the same year. Performances like the ones against Gloucester away from home illustrate the ability and skill the dynamic playmaker has in his locker.

Guinness PRO14, Kingspan Stadium, Belfast 3/1/2020 Ulster vs Munster Munster’s Joey Carbery runs out Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

His performances merited a two year contract extension in 2019 but injuries and surgery have halted his full potential being unlocked for the province.

However, a fully fit Carbery heading into the new season will be a worry for any opposition side and certainly a bonus for the club, as well as potentially becoming one of the players of the year for the forthcoming campaign.

His performances of late for Ireland also gave a glimpse of what Munster can expect this season, which is without doubt an exciting prospect.

Ben Healy:

The last player on the list is an interesting one as the player mentioned prior on the list Joey Carbery will make it difficult for Healy to start often for the club.

However, the battle at out half can only benefit the province and lift standards between the two tens, but also lift the standards in the dressing room.

The former Glenstal student has impressed on every occasion in his young career to date with Munster. The 22-year-old can only learn from Carbery and in certain areas of the game can offer something different to his teammate, with a large boot and old head on his young shoulders.

Healy is without doubt a potential superstar of the game. The Garryowen man made an impact in the academy in 2018 and has continued to do so at senior level.

Having made his debut in the 2019-20 season against Edinburgh, he quickly showed what Munster may have in this fly half. The performance that had everyone taking notice of his talent was against Welsh outfit Scarlets in 2020 as the young star scored a 50-metre penalty in the final minute of the game to secure a vital win away from home.

He rounded off last year by winning the Academy Player of the Year award.

Healy has a big season ahead of him and will no doubt make his presence known with every opportunity he is granted.

He is a really exciting player for Munster going forward, and potentially there is a great season in store for Healy.

5 March 2021; Ben Healy of Munster during the Guinness PRO14 match between Munster and Connacht at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

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