The defeat of Munster by Ulster in the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup on Easter Sunday may not have marked the end for Munster as we know them but it may prove the tipping point for the legendary province.
Having failed to exit their pool for the first time in 13 seasons last year, Munster must have been frothing at the mouth to get this Heineken Cup campaign underway.
They did indeed play like they had a point to prove in the group stages of the competition. A perfect six from six left them ten points clear in their pool. A pool that featured Scarlets, Northampton Saints and Northampton Saints.
A home quarter final against fellow province Ulster in a jam packed and noisy Thomand Park was the perfect platform for Munster to show that they were still a major force at the top table of European rugby.
Things didn’t quite plan out like that.
I for one cannot remember a time when Munster, who were 19-0 down to Ulster, were been beating so comprehensibly in such an important game at Thomand Park.
Even more worryingly was that at no time did you get the feeling that Munster were going to drag themselves back from the brink like they have done on so many occasions in the past.
Cast your minds back a week previously to when Leinster visited Thomand Park. While the game was evenly balanced for the first three quarters you always had that lingering feeling that it was a case of when Leinster would pull away and not if.
In the wake of the defeat to Ulster the question must be asked. Where next for Munster?.
Crucially they have one big decision to make as current coach Tony McGahan is heading back to Australia at the end of the current season.
Popular opinion seems to favour Anthony Foley steeping into the hot seat when McGahan heads for sunnier pastures. While Foley is steeped in Munster folklore, having wrote a fair chunk of it himself, is he the right man for the job?
There is no doubting Foley’s qualifications for the job but would Munster not benefit from bringing in someone without connections to Munster’s past?
Knowing the culture and the tradition of a new team is important but there is no hard and fast rule to say that a new coach cannot create his own.
Nick Mallett would be someone who has no ties to Munster. He would be an ideal coach to come in and not change, but tweak the Munster mindset and their style of play because the bish bash style of rugby that Munster made themselves famous on isn’t working.
Munster have always prided themselves on their never say die attitude. That attitude seeped into their play when they would run through teams until the opposition cried enough.
They had a well of bitterness to drink out of and fuel them down through the years. They used that chip on their shoulder to drive themselves to places where no other Irish province had been. Now the time has come to take stock and
Two Heineken Cups in three seasons marked Munster out as one of the great teams in Europe. They will climb back to the top one day. However long it takes remains unanswered.