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'Delusional': Ex-Munster great slams 'rudderless' Irish province

By Kim Ekin
(Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Ex-Ireland and Lions second row Donal Lenihan was a loyal servant to Munster during the amateur era – but his patience has snapped with the current set-up at the Irish province. Not since 2008 have they won the Heineken Cup, they are without a league title since 2011 and the fallout from last Saturday’s latest beating by Irish rivals Leinster has caused much upset heading into this weekend’s round off 16 European fixture away to Exeter.  

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Tickets for big Munster matches in Limerick used to be like gold dust during their trophy-winning heyday but there were plenty of spaces available for last weekend’s Irish derby and it is shaping up to be similar when the Chiefs visit on April 16 for the second leg of their two-legged tie.    

Adding to the sense of drift surrounding the province is the lack of concrete news regarding who will replace Johann van Graan as head coach next season. It was December when it was confirmed that the South African had snubbed a contract extension offer in favour of a switch to Bath in England, but there is no sign yet of a successor being appointed. 

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It’s a situation that has left Lenihan annoyed and he has taken those frustrations out in a hard-hitting Irish Examiner column headlined: “Munster remain deluded about their status in Europe”. No punches were pulled in the piece that followed:

“Despite starting with an entire second string front five, Leinster had sufficient quality sprinkled around the park to highlight, once again, how far behind Munster have fallen in this increasingly lopsided rivalry,” suggested Lenihan, reflecting on his team’s latest meek surrender to their Irish rivals. 

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“The number of empty seats scattered around Thomond Park sent another message to those running Munster Rugby, who appear oblivious to the frustrations of the public. Four months after the announcement that Johann van Graan is leaving, we are still in the dark as to who is going to replace him or what the management structure is even going to look like.

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“I’ve been advocating a director of rugby to plot the long term course of rugby within the province for some time now but nobody is listening. Meanwhile, Munster remain somewhat delusional as to their current status within the European game… Right now Munster appear somewhat rudderless. 

“Why, for example, does Van Graan keep selecting Chris Cloete, who it was confirmed last week is also heading to Bath, over Alex Kendellen or John Hodnett? That duo not only represents the future but Kendellen has the credentials to be Munster’s long-term captain once he bags a bit more experience over the next few seasons.

“Munster are somewhat fortunate that the Exeter Chiefs side they meet over the next two weeks and who won the Heineken Champions Cup as recently as 2020, have had a poor season by their high standards. They are struggling to make the knockout phase of the Gallagher Premiership for the first time in years.

“Rather ominously, they produced their best performance of the season last Saturday with a comprehensive 42-22 over van Graan’s new charges Bath to move up to fourth place in the Premiership table. With that box ticked, the Chiefs will be waiting with bated breath for the arrival of Munster at a newly extended Sandy Park on Saturday. Munster had better be ready.”

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