It is a total Munster party love in at the moment. Munster topped their tricky European Champions Cup pool, second seeds in the quarter finals and a home tie against Toulouse, medical staff absolved of any negligence over Conor Murray’s HIA procedures during the trip to Scotstoun. On this high, the powers that be in the province have announced more good news in back of three key signings and a couple of contract extensions to front line players. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the news.
JJ returns home
This is the key addition for Munster next season. The return of JJ Hanrahan adds quality and competition to the ten berth and will push Tyler Bleyendaal on to higher performance levels. The fact that JJ has left Northampton Saints after only two seasons speaks volumes of a period where his potential at ten was unfulfilled instead plying this trade either at full back or at twelve, the very reason why the Kerry native left the province in the first place. Northampton right now are in a state of flux; head coach rumors circulating and with the likes of Tom Woods moving to Saracens next season indicates all is not well in the East Midlands club. This is a good move for Hanrahan, it is a move which will define his career and it will be an interesting off season to see how the ten battle unfolds already. Erasmus has a player with numerous positives; ability to game manage, astute tactical kicking. It is a win win for the fans who for the majority were sad to see the player go. Let us not forget the circumstances surrounding the departure with Anthony Foley making the call to appoint Ian Keatley as his first choice ten while Hanrahan was reduced as an utility back. Interesting times for the player next season. A fresh new start as it looks almost inevitable that Ian Keatley will depart for pastures new (probably France) in the off-season.
Scrum Half backups secured
With the departures of Cathal Sheridan (injury plagued) and Tomas O’Leary whose lack of game time prompted a loan move to Montpelier, it was essential that Munster identified sufficient backup options to Munster. The new recruit is James Hart, a potential shrewd signing from the province who is well regarded by management at Racing Metro 92. His brief cameo against Munster last weekend indicated a player who is quick to distribute from the ruck. With a good off-season, Hart will be a pivotal squad player who will challenge existing incumbent Duncan Williams for the backup scrum half spot. Williams is rewarded for a positive start to the season with a contract extension. Some may have their negative vibes on the player but Williams is well respected in the Munster dressing room and management team. Williams has played superbly in recent weeks particularly away to Glasgow two weeks ago. His assured box kicking and game management was to the fore. A potentially troublesome position resolved next season. Erasmus will have plenty of competition for places in the twenty-three man first team squad.
This is a signing which will prompt speculation on the futures of the likes of Saili and Taute. Chris Farrell has significant upside; aggressive ball carrier, physical and strong. His age profile means that he will come to Munster with his best days still left to come. Fans need to be patient on this signing so hopefully either Taute or Saili are also in the squad next season as both players have contributed massively on both sides of the ball in recent months. Farrell will need experience around him to nurture him into the defensive system of the province and also gain familiarity to the attacking plays. Either Taute or Saili would fit the mould perfectly or potentially Keith Earls as well. A signing which has a lot of upside given the age profile of the player. We await to see his impact.
Munster have tied down the futures of six Munster players whose age profile means that the province will enjoy the peaks of their playing careers. Bleyendaal at ten this season has being excellent; yes, they are questions from yours truly on his ability to vary up his game but his passing and ability to hit his targets has being on point. 2019 contract means that the player will be eligible for Ireland duty well before then. Is he a player in the plans of Joe Schmidt?
Dave Kilcoyne has signed on until June 2020. The abrasive prop whose ball carrying provides Munster with endless attacking opportunities has being a revelation this season. His set piece has improved this season and his error count has reduced compared to last season when he was exposed in set piece, offside and the occasion knock on. Kilcoyne’s suitors were many but the UL Bohs stalwart has made the right decision; a team which is on the up. Kilcoyne can bed down and hone his craft in familiar surroundings. Excellent contract extension.
The Scannell brothers have being standouts of the Munster revival. Rory Scannell at twelve has transitioned into a quality three quarter. His ability to spot space in behind opponents defenses with superb kicks has setup endless opportunities for Munster to launch attacks. Scannell’s defense this year has being sublime. Niebaner and Farrell have to be credited for this, his first time tackle success rate is on point. A player who will only improve in the coming years and his kicking makes him a good option at ten also.
Niall Scannell is the first choice hooker in the team even if Casey, Sharry were in the squad fit and healthy. His progression this season has summed up Munster’s rise; his error count has reduced and the Cork native has really improved all facets of his play. Lineout has being on point evident in his call-up to the Ireland squad for the upcoming RBS 6N. What I am loving about these signings is the age profile, all the guys are young and their potential has yet to be fully realized. Exciting times for the province. A key player for the team in the years to come.
Darren Sweetnam before his injury was excellent. Kirchner’s hit during St.Stephen’s Day was a sickener as the player was increasing in confidence in both sides of the ball. His GAA background proved a great asset for Murray in box kicking aerial duels but his ability to identify space in the open field was to the fore. Superb prospect and along with Ronan O’Mahoney is a player with massive potential to flourish in the years to come. A no brainer but a move which was needed to be tied down now. Exciting times indeed for Munster!