After a few seasons of struggling outside the top four and abject European performances, Munster have been revitalised under Rassie Erasmus, winning 14 of their 17 matches this season. Sitting comfortably second in the league table and achieving a home quarter-final berth is a return to the standards demanded of the Munster men.
Reenergising the squad has been essential, with a return to the classic Munster way. While Connacht adopt an almost Super Rugby like approach, (and having flirted with it under Rob Penney), Munster have returned to an up-the-jumper style of rugby that is almost primitive, but more importantly, highly effective. The return of this style has also seen a return to winning ways.
The simplistic Springbok style has suited the Munster pack. Their scrum is the most solid in years despite the loss of BJ Botha, while the line-out continues to work seamlessly even with the addition of younger players like Niall Scannel and Jean Kleyn. Such basic rugby played at its best will give any team difficulties. Apart from Saracens and the attacking threat of Clermont, I would give Munster a fair chance against the other sides in Europe who will play a similar style, and thus play into Munster’s hands.
Against Glasgow, Earls’ intelligent pass was the difference and similar moments will always be required with this way of playing. Rory Scannel has played sublimely in what is essentially a second five-eight position, placing kicks in behind to pin back teams like Ronan O’Gara did for years. His tactical kicking coupled with Bleyendaal’s accuracy from the tee are the fine margins that turn these tight games into wins.
The Six Nations will also not be as tough on Munster as the likes of Leinster and Glasgow. Although the province will lose the talismanic Murray, Stander and O’ Mahoney they will retain a strong nucleus that will keep up league form and allow Erasmus to rest players. The pride of the province has been restored of late and much praise lies with their predecessors who laid the groundwork. The legendary Axel Foley had a huge say in the success of this side, something very much worth remembering.
With a home quarter final against Wasps, Munster now have a very good chance of getting to a European semi-final. A continuation of their league form should also lead them to a semi final place in the league, at the very least. While Erasmus’ home country struggles under the weight of their own ‘transformation’ processes, Munster have returned to the top via a very well-worn path. Sometimes, the old way is the best.