Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

Same old story for Munster

On the first Saturday of this year, Ulster travelled to Thomond Park and spanked Munster 37-11. Ronan O'Gara recalled the experience in his autobiography. “The doubters and knockers had a field day,” he wrote.

Fast forward ten months and, despite last season's ultimate achievements in winning a Magners League and reaching the last four in Europe (still a “failure” in O'Gara's eyes), Munster have more knockers than a row of NFL cheerleaders.

During that last winter of discontent, Munster had also lost to Connacht during the festive season and the ever-available obituaries were dusted down from the shelves.

And yet, two months later, Munster produced arguably their most complete European performance when they destroyed the Ospreys in their Heineken Cup quarter-final. Their relentless assault on perfection in the guise of a League and Cup double seemed assured. It was an illusory ambition.

And now the question is posed once more: Are Munster finished? Saturday will provide a conveniently timed prism through which to seriously analyse whether Munster are indeed officially immersed in crisis.

Some perspective is required, however. Although form militates against such an eventuality, a reversal of the January scoreline could, in conjunction with other results going their way, see the reigning league champions return to the summit.

Munster would then disappear from public view for a month aware that their Heineken Cup campaign is currently an almost exact replication of their previously successes in 2006 and 2008.

On both of those occasions, they managed to marry uninterested Magners League form with European advancement, despite losing narrowly away to English opposition in the opening two rounds of the pool stages.

Some crisis. Then again, it depends on your tolerance for under-achievement; out of all proportion and with no deference to recent history, the impatience and expectations of many Irish rugby supporters has often beggared belief.