2022 Munster Rugby vs Vodacom Bulls

Is Munster's Dire Start To Season A Warning For The Bulls?

Is Munster's Dire Start To Season A Warning For The Bulls?

For longtime supporters of Munster rugby, a glance at the current Vodacom United Rugby Championship log must be both an unusual and depressing experience.

Oct 11, 2022 by RugbyPass
Is Munster's Dire Start To Season A Warning For The Bulls?

For longtime supporters of top Irish provincial team Munster, a glance at the current Vodacom United Rugby Championship log must be both an unusual and depressing experience.

A bit like Liverpool has in a different sport, Munster hasn't got off to its usual strong start in the competition, and after four games the team is a long way from the top-four position it usually occupies. 

Following a change of coach, with Graham Rowntree coming in for Johan van Graan, the former Springbok assistant who now is coaching Bath, talk of a bright new beginning for the team from Limerick has proved anything but that.

After three defeats in four games, two of those losses coming at the hands of Welsh clubs, Munster is listing at 12th in the overall standings, four places below playoff qualification. 

They thought they were righting the ship when they beat Zebre 10 days ago, but they were back in the mire this past weekend, when they lost to Connacht in the Irish derby in Galway.

It is a desperate situation, perhaps made more desperate by what comes next - a visit to Thomond Park by the Vodacom Bulls, who last year made it all the way to the URC final. The Bulls were poor in their surprisingly one-sided loss to Glasgow Warriors at the Scotstoun in the fourth round and will come to Munster in a determined mood.

There again, Munster will be even more desperate, and it does have the advantage of playing at a home venue that doesn't tend to be kind to visiting teams.

"We are spoiled as players and coaches to have such great support as we do with the Munster fans," Rowntree said after his team's 20-11 defeat at the hands of Connacht. "I'm sure they'll be right behind us at Thomond, which is now a huge game.

"It's always going to be a huge game, particularly against the Bulls. We know what's coming from the Bulls, so we drive on. We'll look at this game Monday, fix things, drive training, see what selection brings. We've got some guys coming back from South Africa, and we'll look forward to the next game after Monday."

The former England prop has a lot of expectation around him, as he starts in his new role as head coach, but he says the intense pressure on him is no worse than he anticipated.

"No, it's tough," Rowntree said. "That's coaching. It's fixing things, finding solutions, moving forward; fixing them, working to the next game. I've been around long enough. Obviously, it's a different context being the head coach, but I knew it wasn't going to be easy."

Munster's problems so far this season have been manifold, but primarily, there has been a lack of penetration on attack, there have been way too many handling errors and there has been a poor record with discipline, having scored 52 penalties, an average of 13 per match, over four games. 

Rowntree says much of that comes down to just trying new things.

"We've changed how we're doing things," he said. "We've not reinvented the wheel, but we've changed things. I can see the changes, the improvements coming through, but we just have to eradicate errors, eradicate penalties, improve our discipline. It's my job to do that, and the coaches, and to manage those young coaches, it's my job. We'll keep doing that, that's all we can physically do, day in, day out."

In contrast to Munster, the other members of the so-called Irish big three, Leinster and Ulster, are flying at present, with Leinster at the top of the log, and Ulster having regained winning momentum ahead of its trip to South Africa, where it will face the Emirates Lions and Cell C Sharks, with a comprehensive win over the Ospreys.

Ulster ran in seven tries against the Welsh club and was never threatened as if built a 28-10 lead at the break, before pressing on to the victory in the second half. 

Having fallen to Leinster last week, it was exactly the response Ulster wanted before welcoming back their Emerging Ireland contingent and integrate Rory Sutherland into the squad, having announced the Scotland and British and Irish Lions prop's arrival on a short-term deal earlier Saturday.

Meanwhile, Italian rugby is looking increasingly healthier. 

The Zebre team that lost to the DHL Stormers in Parma over the weekend was understrength due to injury, but the other Italian team, Benetton, properly flexed its muscles with a comprehensive win over what was considered a rejuvenated Dragons team, following a win over Munster and narrow loss to the Sharks.