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There Were A Lot More Positives For Munster Rugby This Season Than You Would Think

There Were A Lot More Positives For Munster Rugby This Season Than You Would Think
By Conor O'Leary

Three weeks ago Munster Rugby was in the doldrums. A heavy 21-point defeat to former whipping boys Connacht had thrown their European dreams into doubt. There was panic. This was a bad season.

And while no one is arguing about how disappointing a year it was for the former giants - if that's the lowest Munster go - isn't that a good thing? Things can only go up from here, and there is more than a few reasons to be optimistic for the future. In fact, I'd argue Munster fans should be more excited about next season after this difficult year, than they would have been at this time last year.

Here's five reasons why.

Outhalf Of The Future

Munster have been missing Ronan O'Gara a whole lot since he retired. Ian Keatley was given the first crack at it with mixed results. When Keatley's on form he can lead Munster into Champions Cup semi-finals and PRO 12 finals - but when he's not things go south in a hurry. Tyler Bleyendaal was brought in from New Zealand, and the former New Zealand U20 captain has talent - but finds it hard to stay away from the physio room.

But late in the season Foley may have unearthed a future star. Johnny Holland took over the reigns from Keatley and played magnificently. His game management, ability to take on the line, goalkicking, and distribution all suggest he's someone that Munster can build around - and is one to watch for the future. Between Holland and promising teenager Bill Johnston coming through - Munster are finally set at the outhalf position for the next number of years.

Centre Depth

For years, Munster relied on imports to fill their centre positions - Jean de Villiers, Trevor Halstead, Lifeimi Mafi, Rua Tipoki, Casey Laulala rarely producing a prospect that could hold down the position. Francis Saili was a huge coup to bring in this year to fill a gaping hole - and it looks like Munster will have two Irish centres who can fill the centres from next season.

Rory Scannell was fantastic for Munster playing in a second-five eighth role in his breakout season. The youngster stood up this season whilst others wilted, and was a shining light throughout the year. Next year, he'll be competing with the outstanding talent of Sam Arnold. Breaking into the Ulster team as an 18-year-old with the likes of Stuart McCloskey, Luke Marshall, and Stuart Olding ahead of him shows you the class that Arnold has. A powerful runner with skills, Arnold will learn a lot from playing with Saili - and Munster have some quality centres all of a sudden.

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Youngsters Stepping Up

It wasn't just Holland and Scannell who broke out this year. Jack O'Donoghue continues to improve, Niall Scannell finally had a run in the side too. Then there was Stephen Fitzgerald who got valuable experience at the start of the year after playing Ireland U20s last year.

There's some talent coming through the ranks eventually, and right on time.

Injury Returns

Going an entire season without your best player will cause teams to have bad years. Would Munster have been as poor with Peter O'Mahony in their team? Absolutely not. Even the return of Tommy O'Donnell got them back on track after a horrible November/December.

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Munster have had an awful run with injuries, most teams did after a World Cup.

The off season will be huge to get players back fit, and having their best team on the pitch will help Munster push on from where they are now.

Outside Thinking

Everything that's been said about Rassie Erasmus has been positive. He seems like an innovator, and having an outside voice can only be good for Munster.

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If things pick up there's no reason why they can't be part of an Irish dominated PRO12 with four teams in the top five. Next year's campaign will be even tighter than this one.

Projected Starting XV For Munster In 2016/17

Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway, Francis Saili, Sam Arnold/ Rory Scannell, Keith Earls, Johnny Holland, Conor Murray;
James Cronin, Duncan Casey, Stephen Archer, Donnacha Ryan, Mark Chisholm, Peter O'Mahony, Tommy O'Donnell, CJ Stander;
Mike Sherry, Dave Kilcoyne, John Andress, Dave Foley, Jack O'Donoghue, Cathal Sheridan, Ian Keatley/Rory Scannell, Sam Arnold/Darren Sweetnam

See Also: Watch: Munster Score Electrifying End-To-End Try Against Scarlets

Picture credit: Eóin Noonan / SPORTSFILE

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