It is just under four weeks until Munster Rugby take to Thomond Park in the opening round of the 2018/19 Guinness Pro14 season. With the several key signings, Munster Rugby’s proven options to start at number 10 this season, gives them an out-half dilemma.
After suffering two semi-final defeats, there is a want; almost a desperation among the men and women of Munster, to finally win some silverware. With signings like Tadhg Beirne, Joey Carbery and Mike Haley, there is a new found optimism among supporters that – perhaps – has not been seen for a number of years.
The majority of blame for the provinces poor run of form in the knock out stages of all competitions, has been placed on the lack of consistency at 10. There are now five viable out-half options for head coach Johann Van Graan to choose from. Each of whom will be desperate to prove their worth, in Munster Rugby’s 2018/19 season.
Munster Rugby’s unknown factors
The situation with Tyler Bleyendaal is still unknown. The New Zealander signed for the Southern province in 2015 but since then, has been plagued with injury. Arriving to Munster with a neck injury, the re-occurrence of that early in 2018 was a cause for concern.
Munster have stated that they expect him to make a full recovery ahead of this season. However, no update has been given on how his rehab is progressing. His addition to an Irish training camp last season highlights his talent and knowledge of the game, and his absence was unquestionably felt at the business end of last season. Bleyendaal’s self-assurance and confidence ripples through the team when he is running the line. His leadership came to the fore in the 2016/17 Champions Cup campaign, when Munster reestablished their position as one of the top teams in Europe.
Munster fans will be hoping that Bleyandaal can overcome his bad run of injuries and return to the pitch sooner rather than later.
Bill Johnston is another possible option for Munster rugby’s out-half.
Much like Bleyandaal, Bill Johnston has had his fair share of injuries. The 20 year old is heading into his third year with the province, having earned just five senior caps in that time. There is still quite an amount of buzz around this young player though, with Munster rewarding him with a two-year contract extension keeping him at the province until 2020.
His battle for the 10 shirt will have been hampered slightly by the signing of Joey Carbery, however – injury permitting – this season provides a huge opportunity for the young out-half to cut his teeth in the Pro14.
Regular contenders at Number 10
Many thought that with the signing of Carbery, either JJ Hanrahan or Ian Keatley would be heading North to solve the out-half conundrum at Ulster. But, with the Northern province announcing the signing of Billy Burns from Gloucester, that swiftly put an end to the transfer rumours.
📈 Ian Keatley and Maxime Machenaud have notched up ①③⑨ points between them so far this Champions Cup season. pic.twitter.com/IxwQSaUsS1
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) April 10, 2018
The battle for the regular starting out-half position was mostly won by Keatley, which saw him selected for the majority of last season. However, after a rocky Champions Cup semi-final performance, the Munster coaching staff gave JJ Hanrahan his shot at a consistent run of games in the 10 jersey.
With Carbery having toured with Ireland over the summer (see main picture), the opening rounds of the Guinness Pro14 provides an great opportunity for both of these players to be contenders stake a claim to that infamous 10 jersey. Keatley will be looking to replicate his early form of last season while Hanrahan has the chance to continue the momentum from his run of games at 10 into this season.
Joey Carbery – the Newbie
Much has been talked about the signing of young Joey Carbery. The ex-Leinster superstar. His decision to move to Munster was greeted with much dismay from Leinster fans, however, it can be argued that it makes perfect sense.
A year out from the Rugby World Cup, Carbery needs game time at 10 if he wants to become indispensable to Joe Schmidt. The possibility to play alongside Conor Murray week-in-week-out in some of the biggest games in both Pro14 and the European Champions Cup, is a no brainer.
Struggling for game time behind established names like Johnny Sexton and Ross Byrne meant the majority of Carbery’s game time last season was spent coming off the bench or in the 15 jersey. Not ideal for a player with ambitions of being the starting out-half for Ireland.
Having been christened the nickname ‘ROG’ by the guys in Munster, there’s a lot of pressure on the youngster to impress. Yet with the nonchalant nature to Carbery’s game, there’s no doubt that he’ll fit right in. Munster supporters will be hoping that the newbie can be the answer to their prayers.
— Irish Examiner Sport (@ExaminerSport) August 3, 2018
Having missed out on two major competition final spots last season, Munster are determined to replicate the success of their Leinster counter-parts. Leinster found themselves in a similar position this time last year, having been knocked out of two semi-finals. There’s no doubt that the hurt of the previous seasons certainly drove Leinster over the winning line last season.
So, who’s to say Munster can’t do the same this season? With the options that Munster Rugby’s coaching team have now, they can turn things around for the Three Gold Crowns of Irish Rugby.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images