As Munster fans worry about the impact RG Snyman’s second ACL injury, they must remain focused on the progress made and the possibilities for the near future.
Rugby is often a complicated sport, with lots of conflicting opinions, predictions and reactions towards even the most ordinary elements of the game. If you pay attention to any facet of the rugby media in Ireland, chances are you’ve been exposed to the subconscious assumption that Munster rugby is always a couple of steps behind when faced with the games foremost competitors.
Since Munster released their grip on European rugby after the 06/08 era, teams like Saracens, Toulon and Leinster have dwarfed the achievements of Munster from the late 2000’s, which at one time were thought of as implausible.
Many of Munster’s key players during this era have gone on to coach some of European rugby’s most productive and efficient teams, and many of the province’s opponents from this era have found themselves contributing to the media’s agenda of Munster being the scapegoat for Irish club rugby.
The memories from Munster’s golden era which the club and it’s fans cherished were beginning to seem deeper in the past then ever before. This feeling was at it’s most galling on the 16th of October 2016, when the club’s head coach and most beloved former captain Anthony Foley died suddenly, just hours before Munster’s Champions Cup clash with Racing 92.
Naturally, the weeks and months following were filled with heartbreak and grief among all who knew Foley and all who enjoyed the wealth of success he brought to Munster. However losing Foley forced both the fans and the club itself to redirect their focus, not towards recapturing those glory days, but towards cultivating a successful future.
The arrival of Rassie Erasmus was significant, his redirection and reallocation of resources took the club from failing to reach the Pro14 knock-out stages under Foley, to at worst semi-finalists. Now succeeded by current head coach Johann Van Graan, the blueprint Erasmus conjured up for the club is being continued with a healthy influence from senior coach Steven Larkham and forwards coach Graham Rowntree.
Like many teams across many sports, Munster face certain challenges that richer clubs don’t and Erasmus knew this better than anyone. Drawing talent from the schools game and the AIL gave Munster a broader range of players that could be developed to professional level.
Although Foley valued the Academy, he sought to repurpose foreign players already in the professional game and build a team around talented players that we’re outside the realm for international consideration, for example New Zealand U20 star Tyler Bleyendaal and former All Black Francis Saili, who was capped only twice for his country.
Erasmus however, followed by Van Graan, placed greater focus on the Munster Academy by putting it at the centre of the clubs organisational structure. Now with the clubs resources used to their absolute maximum efficiency, Van Graan could bypass certain monetary obstacles and sign World Cup winning duo RG Snyman and Damian De Allende.
Damian De Allende has been a phenomenal addition to Munster backline, his multi-faceted playing style means that not only can he create tries, but he can score them also. A precise distributor and a robust defender, De Allende undoubtedly has high expectations for his time with the Club.
RG on the other hand has created a sense of panic for Munster, after re-rupturing his ACL after playing just 54 minutes for the province since joining in 2019. RG is a player of spectacular ability, yet his absence from the squad and the cost of his rehabilitation shouldn’t render the club in a vulnerable position financially.
More positively, RG’s return to injured status doesn’t blow a hole in Munster’s medium to long term goals. In other words, They can win without him. Although the fans and the club itself would prefer if RG was fit, but there is phenomenal talent within the squad to make up for RG’s omission.
Academy products such as Fineen Wycherley and Thomas Ahern can sustain Munster’s high standards when it comes to scums and line-outs, as well as offering a more dynamic addition to the Munster attack than a second-row traditionally would.
South African duo Jason Jenkins (although injured) and Jean Klein can prove to be huge assets to the Munster back-five in the form of experience as well as performance.
Munster’s ball carrying back-row is also in safe hands, with Gavin Coombes making a case as the best number eight in Ireland along with positive showings from Jack O’Sullivan and Chris Cloete.
Yet some of the most exciting back-rows remain in the academy awaiting to be unleashed, Ireland U20 captain Alex Kendellen made his senior Munster debut just 12 months after the conclusion of his school career. Fellow U20’s teammate Daniel Okeke is currently the backbone of Shannon RFC’s back-row, with the 19 year old scoring for his club in their league clash with Banbridge.
Outside of the Munster forwards, perhaps the most central position in rugby is also well looked after. With Joey Carbery coming from Leinster and the rapid development of academy graduate Ben Healy, Munster now have two world class out-halves to lean on.
Munster also have two international level choices at scrum-half in the form of Craig Casey and former Lions captain Conor Murray, both academy graduates. The return of Simon Zebo paired with Keith Earls and Andrew Conway gives Van Graan a wealth of experience when selecting a back-three.
Munster’s depth in the back-three continues to bear fruit, a solid performance from former Saracen Matt Gallagher at the weekend shows he could challenge fellow countryman Mike Haley for the full-back jersey.
The Munster academy since the arrival of Erasmus has been repeatedly undervalued in regards to the level of efficiency and quality of players produced. Although RG’s presence on the pitch will be missed, his absence won’t jeopardise Munster’s progress nor will it upset their momentum.
These are the early showings of a new Munster Rugby.