Written By Conal Lane
We begin 2016-17 against the Scarlets, hopefully with a repeat of the same 31-15 scoreline from last May, but I don’t want to curse it. New season, new coach, new recruits and an outstanding new away strip. It’s a fun change to feel genuine positivity and hopeful anticipation for the coming season. The outstandingly named Mr Erasmus has (finally) blown a wind of change over the squad, releasing some unneeded bodies and bidding farewell to stalwarts Messrs Botha and Hurley. Youth in Jean Kleyn, Darren O’Shea & Sammy Arnold, plus experienced heads John Andress & Jaco Taute (albeit temporarily) has been recruited giving the overall squad a great balance. The Men in Red (Navy most likely for this fixture) do however enter this weekend’s game off the back of impressive preseason wins, dispensing with Zebre 17-0 in Waherfurr before dishing out a 52-21 arse-thumping to Donncha O’Callaghan’s Worcester Warriors in Cork this past weekend.
Scarlets have done some fantastic business, recruiting Werner Kruger from the Blue Bulls & pulling off a coup in re-signing Jonathan Davies from Clermont. A superb season for the Lllanelli based team, where they pipped Munster to 5th position in the Pro12 table, the signings above will only strengthen an existing core group of internationals and seasoned veterans. The Scarlets may not have won in Limerick since 2003 but their home record beats an altogether more resounding drum, Munster have not recorded a league win in Llanelli since 2011. Llanelli will look to hit the ground running in their quest for a first Pro12 playoff place since 2013.
Focus on: Penalties
I shall begin where I left off at the tail end of last season, points and penalties. Munster have fallen victim to handing up far far too many kickable penalties over the last couple of seasons. Unnecessary, brainless penalties to boot as well. With the return this season of Peter O’Mahony, hopefully this can and will be rectified sooner rather than later, a try scored is not much good to anyone when a penalty is conceded and kicked over the bar almost right from the restart, which has far too often been the case over the last number of seasons. Erasmus needs to drill this into every single players head, I’m not going to name names but there are a few squad members guilty of keeping their hands in too long or not rolling away, hopefully this has been recognized and sufficiently dealt with.
Munster: Tyler Bleyendaal, Dan Goggin
The oft maligned Tyler Bleyendaal has been handed a serious reprieve this season, due to the devastating retirement of Jonathan Holland (to whom I wish the most success in his future outside of rugby). The time is now for Bleyendaal, not just for his own career but for Munster’s PRO12 and Heineken Champions Cup prospects. The scorer of over 80 points in his five New Zealand Under 20 caps, and a solid performer for both Canterbury & Super Rugby’s Crusaders in his three seasons with each, the Kiwi must perform, he and Munster have little choice in the matter. Ian Keatley is not fully fit and his form at the end of last season was diabolical, Holland has retired, Bill Johnston at 18 is still one for the future and it’s highly unlikely the IRFU will sanction a further signing, given the utter shit that they put Ulster and Ruan Pienaar through this week.
Dan Goggin is another man to be hit with an injection of faith from the new Bok coaching ticket. The former St Munchins College centre has earned his stripes in the academy through recent years and judging by his preseason excellence, Goggin is a man well and truly worth the risk. With Francis Saili out until after Christmas, Rassie and fans alike will be praying that he will be the Rory Scannell-like bolter of this year and there’s few better tests than in Parc Y Scarlets. Expect the Cookie to do the basics with class, be it tackling, passing or general reading of the game, but once that inch of space opens up, put your money on the debutant to at least set up a try, if not to grab a bitta meat himself.
Scarlets: Scott Williams, Werner Kruger
Scott Williams is probably doing laps of Parc Y Scarlets at the prospect of teaming up (again) with his fellow Welsh wrecking ball Jonathan Davies. That said, Williams is an archetypal modern center himself, though slightly smaller in stature than his Welsh counterparts Davies and Jamie Roberts, Williams is no stranger to punching a hole in many an opposition center (Except for when he dislocated his shoulder off BOD’s noggin) Paired with Kiwi utility back Hadleigh Parkes for this fixture, Williams will have eyes on the inexperienced Munster centres tomorrow afternoon
It is a testament to South Africa’s front row strength in depth that Werner Kruger’s cap count is in single figures. A vastly experienced 31 year old (and former teammate of CJ Stander), he has notched up over 100 appearances in both Super Rugby and the Currie Cup. An enormous presence in the scrum, Kruger is equally mobile around the fringes and plays like an extra back rower at times. Will need to be in tip top shape this Saturday to get the better of Munster’s James Cronin.
Munster: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam, Dan Goggin, Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony; Tyler Bleyendaal, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Dave Foley, Billy Holland – capt.; Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, Jack O’Donoghue.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Dave Kilcoyne, Brian Scott, Jean Kleyn, Donnacha Ryan, Tomás O’Leary, Ian Keatley, Cian Bohane.
Scarlets: Liam Williams; DTH van der Merwe, Scott Williams, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans; 10 Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies; Dylan Evans, Ken Owens – capt, Werner Kruger; Jake Ball, Lewis Rawlins; Aaron Shingler, John Barclay, Josh Macleod
Replacements; Ryan Elias, Wyn Jones, Peter Edwards, David Bulbring, Tadhg Beirne, Jonathan Evans, Dan Jones, Jonathan Davies
Munster have to front up this season, no more team in transition, no more rebuilding job, the time is now, the fans demand it, Erasmus demands it. Scarlets is a relatively tough opener but its no Glasgow, Leinster or Connacht. A victory is needed and should be attained. Start the season off an a decent footing now chaps, no more playing catchup in April/May!
Verdict: Munster by 12