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A new low for Munster, Axel under pressure and more Paris talking points

Stade Français scored three tries to end the province’s Champions Cup campaign.

MUNSTER WERE BEATEN 27-7 by Stade Français in Paris to end their hopes of advancing into the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup.

Read our match report here.

A new European low

The defeat away to Saracens last year left Munster fans in the doldrums, but the lack of performance in Paris was even more worrying. This was further confirmation that the province has fallen far, far behind the European elite.

Robin Copeland dejected after the game Jack O'Donoghue at the final whistle. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The manner in which Munster folded under pressure once again was most concerning of all. Far from being inspired and enthused by the prospect of playing against 14 men for 40 minutes, Anthony Foley’s men looked mentally crippled.

The missed tackles for Stade’s second and third tries through Sekou Macalou and Hugo Bonneval were knives through the hearts of those who have played for, coached and supported this proud province down the years.

Even if the technical and mental quality to compete at the top level is not within this squad, the lack of willingness to at least thunder into contact, to play with work rate and passion even after the game looked lost is unacceptable.

Those elements don’t require any talent, but they were collectively missing for Munster in Paris.

Foley will feel the heat

The calls for Foley’s head from disgruntled supporters have been heard long before this particular defeat, but they will only have multiplied after a sorry European exit at the hands of a Stade Français side that was shorn of a handful of starters.

Anthony Foley Munster fans empathise with Foley, but can't overlook results. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

No one in Ireland doubts the former number eight’s love for Munster, his passion for the province and his desire to see them succeed. Unfortunately for Foley, the results haven’t matched that deep-rooted attachment.

A one-year contract extension for Foley has been verbally agreed in principle between the province and head coach, and it will be interesting to see how that develops in the coming weeks.

If the 42-year-old is to retain his position into next season, an announcement is likely to be delayed until the furore around this defeat dies a little. Any extension for Foley would certainly mean questions being asked of his backroom staff.

Each of them are indigenous, ambitious coaches with obvious talents that have taken them to this level, but Foley’s coaching team also understand that rugby is a results-based business.

Organisational review

Alan Quinlan’s comments post-match on Sky Sports struck a particular chord with Munster fans because they succinctly got to the point. Foley may be struggling as a head coach, but the squad he oversees is clearly not of the same calibre as yesteryear.

The Munster team huddle before the game Munster will likely review how they work at all levels. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Munster do not have the finances to compete with French and English clubs, but there certainly is some feeling that they could have better managed succession planning and recruitment in recent seasons.

Very few organisations anticipate impending decline when they are on top of the game, and Munster appear to be suffering from a lack of forward thinking when they were kings of Europe.

The tighthead situation is a case in point. Realistically speaking, BJ Botha would not have earned a new deal this season if the depth charts behind him had looked healthier and a ready-made replacement, either imported or homegrown, was standing by.

JJ Hanrahan, one of the most exciting Munster players for some years, is in Northampton as Ian Keatley struggles at out-half. The academy is producing players in fits and bursts, rather then providing a steady flow of young players to the senior squad.

The temptation in circumstances such as Munster now find themselves in is to focus on the smaller details – a missed kick, a scrum penalty – but sometimes the truth is that the bigger picture is an unhappy one.

What next for Munster?

Two European dead rubbers in the coming fortnight look hugely unappetising and it will be interesting to see how many fans turn up at Thomond Park for the visit of Stade in a week’s time.

CJ Stander dejected after the game CJ Stander felt the defeat more painfully than most. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

While the introspection should certainly continue at a higher level, Munster’s players must lift themselves in an attempt to gather some momentum before the resumption of the Pro12 at the end of the month.

Currently sitting fifth in the table, a failure to make the league play-offs this season would send Munster into freefall.

Foley and his coaching team will look at themselves, but Munster’s players must perform a similar task. Rory Scannell, making his first European start, was their best back, while the endlessly passionate CJ Stander was strong up front.

Others must ask themselves why they are not matching that standard if Munster are to gain any redemption this season.

‘It was the same problems again’ – Déjà vu for Foley’s Munster in Paris

Munster were awful, but at least neutrals were treated to a wonder-try from this 20-year-old flanker

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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