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Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 8°C
James Crombie/INPHO
# Patience
Judge this new Munster set-up when they are playing with a full deck
Injuries and international call-ups have hit the province hard this season.

LAST UPDATE | Oct 31st 2022, 12:00 PM

GRAHAM ROWNTREE WAS stuck between a lock and a hard place last week. Injuries were mounting, six of his second-row options unavailable.

In this respect, the timing of Wasps’ demise had to be exploited. Munster needed a ready-to-go tighthead and a second row. Wasps had plenty of each, hence why they swooped for John Ryan, a familiar face around these parts, and Kiran McDonald.

At 6’8 the latter is hard to miss. Put it this way, Glasgow didn’t miss him with any of their throws in last year’s visit to the Sportsground where he was far and away the key figure in their demolition of Connacht.

Munster have him and Ryan for three months and need them. Results have been poor – two wins from seven games – but context is also needed. You can’t excuse how awful they were away to Cardiff, Dragons and Connacht, but you can offer mitigating factors for the losses to Leinster and Ulster.

Firstly, both those sides are good ones. Secondly, Munster had their moments in each game. Thirdly, they were missing over 20 players for the Ulster game. International call-ups – either for this November series or the Emerging Ireland tour – have hit them harder than anyone else.

By the time Saturday came around they were looking at their seventh and eighth choices for the second row as Tadhg Beirne, RG Snyman, Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley, Thomas Ahern and Paddy Kelly were unavailable. Reacting to this news, Ulster picked Alan O’Connor and Sam Carter, old dogs for the hard road. Ulster won by a point, their three tries rooted in their dominance at the lineout.

Little wonder then Munster signed McDonald on a short-term deal.

“When we got the news back from Thomas on Wednesday, we moved quickly on Kiran,” said Rowntree, their head coach.

“He is match-hardened, has played every game for Wasps this season and quickly with the help of the IRFU got a deal together where he’s with us.

“And he warmed up with us on Saturday night. He would have been straight in if there was any injury in the warm-up.

“From what I’ve seen from him already, he’s just what we need. Big man, athletic, good attitude.” 

Then there is Ryan, the prop who never wanted to leave Munster in the first place. Now 34, Saturday was his 198th appearance for the province. It was as if he had never been away.

“When he was warming up, I could see him looking around, having a moment to himself,” said Rowntree.

“We had to move quickly on that one as well with (first choice tighthead) Stephen Archer’s operation and at that time as well, Roman (Salanoa) was out with concussion and we’ve since lost Knoxy (Keynan Knox) to a couple of bangs.

“So we needed to sign him and I thought John played really well.”

He did. As did others. Jack Crowley is developing; Edwin Edogbo is getting the kind of experience now that he probably wouldn’t have gained under different management while glimpses of an improved attack are becoming increasingly visible week on week.

jack-crowley James Crombie / INPHO Crowley is developing nicely for Munster. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“Look at Jack Crowley, at the end of the game he’s still navigating us around the field,” said Rowntree. “He’s really grown as a leader. I’m really pleased with that young man. It’s not just him as well.

“There’s plenty of others, I don’t want to embarrass everyone, but particularly in the forwards there’s young men, guys who’ve been on the Emerging Ireland tour, they’ve come back with a real bounce in their step and the rest of the squad are feeding off it. It’s my job to get us better, discipline-wise, technically skill-wise and keep driving forward.”

The key is avoiding panic. Looking at the league table, the sight of Munster in 12th has the potential to get alarm bells ringing. But sixth-placed Cardiff are only five points ahead. Losing out on next year’s Champions Cup is still more possibility than probability.

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With 11 games remaining in this year’s URC, a scan through the fixture list offers certain reason for Munster fans to be concerned – in that they have to play Leinster again, have to travel to Belfast as well as for a double-header in South Africa, four difficult games.

But you’d expect them to win the remaining seven, as well as being able to get a result in at least one of the trickier fixtures mentioned above. That’d be enough to get them a spot in this season’s URC play-offs and next season’s Champions Cup.

Aside from that, for years we’ve been listening to moans about Munster’s failure to bring players through. Well, it’s happening now, 55 players being used in seven games this season. New head coach, new attack system, new players, you’re going to get teething trouble.

We’re not saying flaws can be excused forever but patience is required. Munster’s conquerors on Saturday, Ulster, went through this transition process four years ago, when Dan McFarland first came in.

He placed his trust in kids over the subsequent seasons even when Tom O’Toole was given a tortuous time by Denis Buckley one night in Belfast, when people questioned James Hume’s decision making, Michael Lowry’s height, Stewart Moore’s readiness, Robert Baloucoune’s defence.

Now look at them. Investing so much time in youth has resulted in their squad deepening at a reduced cost, the deadwood being cast adrift, and the seasoned pros realising they needed to up their game or else they’d be out the door.

By accident or design, Munster are the ones spending time with young players now and while results aren’t going their way, the time to pass judgement is a year from now. Both they, and Rowntree, deserve time.

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