WITH the show-piece of world rugby returned to its resting place in South Africa for the next four years, the focus is now on our provinces in the two major competitions, namely the URC and Champions Cup.
With a win and a draw behind them, Munster will be expected to remain unbeaten and will target a winning bonus point when the Dragons visit Musgrave Park on Saturday (5.15pm).
The Welsh side have had a poor start to the campaign, losing their two opening fixtures, both at home, against Edinburgh and Cardiff.
Munster’s weekend performance against Benetton fell well below expectations and it would not be surprising if Graham Rowntree rings a few changes for this round three fixture.
The Munster training ground would not have been a pleasant location to be in the past few days as Rowntree went through the post-match review and prepared for the next challenge.
Sunday was the poorest 60 minutes seen from the province for some time and certainly not up to the standard that one has come to expect from this squad. They struggled for three-quarters of the game but, typical of the Reds, they saved two points when they were staring into defeat.
The turning point was a brilliant line-out steal by captain Jack O’Donoghue which set up the crucial score (Tom Ahern try).
Munster have not been beaten away from home since last October so, maybe they were due an off-day.
Interviewed afterwards, Rowntree said: “We showed a lot of composure but they made us make mistakes.”
November is going to be key for Munster and heading into 2024 they will want to be in a decent qualifying position in the table.
With the return of the internationals it will be a different story for URC teams.
After the weekend Munster play four quick matches, away to Ulster on November 10, followed by a home fixture against the Stormers on the 18th and the crunch derby clash away to Leinster a week later.
If we can take any solace from World Rugby Cup 2023, it is that two current Munster players and one ‘recent’ contributed to the Boks’ success. Otherwise, it was a disappointing journey for Ireland strewn with ‘what ifs’ and unfulfilled expectations.
Former Munster full-back, England bound Felix Jones, has certainly proved his ability to impress at the top table with South African star Willie le Roux telling the media last week that “Felix is an amazing guy. He spends hours and hours with the players in an effort to improve their game.”
There was also high praise from Kwagga Smith who added: “He advises us to take more time on the ball before our decision and he has worked on ways to use the bench to our advantage. He has made a massive impact with the Boks and we thank him for that.”
Written by Aidan Corr.