Last season

Pro12: Finished top of the table, defeated 46-22 by Scarlets in final

Champions Cup: Defeated 26-10 by Saracens in semi-final

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The 2016/17 campaign may have ended in sobering fashion – Saracens ended their Champions Cup ambitions at the penultimate stage at a packed Aviva Stadium while a ruthless Scarlets side ran up 46 points in a comprehensive Pro12 final defeat at the same venue – but the resurgence over the course of the season would have made former head coach Anthony Foley proud.

In 22 regular season outings, Munster lost on just three occasions, and only once following the untimely passing of Foley, a far cry from the often underwhelming performances, both domestically and in Europe, of the previous season.

With expectations rising, all eyes will be on the two-time European champions to see if they can move to another level, and crucially, how the loss of Rassie Erasmus will impact the team post-Christmas.

Players

It has been a hive of activity for Munster on the playing personnel front.

Francis Saili’s move to Harlequins means the Thomond Park faithful never got to see the Kiwi in a sustained run of form, but it is Donnacha Ryan’s defection to Racing 92 that is likely to have the biggest impact on the squad.

The versatile Saili struggled with injuries in his first year, while the form of Jaco Taute has softened the blow somewhat. Ryan however leaves a gaping hole both in terms of experience and ability, and should expect a warm welcome when he returns as an opponent in the Champions Cup.

Dave Foley too is another versatile performer who has made France his new home.

The returning JJ Hanrahan should inject a further creative element to the developing game plan, while his defensive game has improved immeasurably from his time at centre.

Chris Farrell returns to Ireland with an improved offloading and passing game to go with his natural ballast, while James Hart joins the squad on a two-year deal after making a name for himself with Grenoble and Racing 92.

Gerbrandt Grobler will add to options in the second row, though Eramus admits he felt some level of guilt towards the new signings after announcing his departure.

"When I was signing them I still thought I was staying. Those were the guys I felt most guilty about. I sat them all down in a room, with the guys here already and they made it quite clear to me, ‘We didn’t come here because of you, we came to play for Munster’."

A number of players have been promoted from Academy to senior contracts, among them flanker Conor Oliver who caught the eye at flanker in his 15 appearances in the Pro12 last year.

The 21-year-old is highly thought of within the club, has shown his poaching ability at the breakdown and is also a capable operator at number 8. With a keen eye for the try line, he will be pushing again in what is a very competitive area of the Munster squad.

In: Chris Farrell (Grenoble), JJ Hanrahan (Northampton Saints), James Hart (Racing 92), Chris Cloete (Southern Kings), Gerbrandt Grobler (Racing 92), Brian Scott, Conor Oliver, Bill Johnston, Dan Goggin, Stephen Fitzgerald (all Academy).

Out: Dave Foley (Pau), Cian Bohane (retired), Rory Burke (Nottingham), Mark Chisholm (retired), Donnacha Ryan (Racing 92), John Madigan (RC Massey), Peter McCabe (Connacht), Francis Saili (Harlequins).

Coaching staff

While Erasmus and defence coach Jacques Nienaber have taken huge credit for last season's exploits and maintaining stability following the death of club stalwart Foley, their departure will place question marks over their season.

The 36-times-capped South African says he had to realise a lifelong ambition with the Springboks and insists the players were informed all along as speculation intensified regarding his future.

"I made it clear to the players, ‘As you guys want to play for Ireland, and the British and Irish Lions, I want to be involved with the Springboks’," he said.

As well as the departing duo, Foley’s head coach role remains vacated.

Felix Jones (backs and attack coach) and Jerry Flannery (scrum coach) have spent another year learning their trade as rumours continue over who will take over in the hotseat.

Andy Farrell and New Zealander Wayne Smith have been linked to the post, as has World Cup winning coach Graham Henry.

Henry, who took a short-term consultancy role at Leinster last season, might be persuaded to take a similar, if not more hands on role, with Munster.

Pro14

Runners-up twice in the last three seasons, the Pro14 offers the most realistic chance of silverware. A competition they last won in 2011, last year’s sub-standard showing in the decider is likely to be stored in the memory bank for the business end of the campaign.

Munster find themselves in Conference A and get their campaign underway at home to Benetton Treviso. Cardiff Blues, Connacht, Glasgow, Ospreys, Toyota Cheetahs and Zebre make up the rest of the conference.

The fixture scheduling has handed Munster a tricky start to the campaign.

The Cheetahs arrive in Week Two, which is followed by away games to Ospreys and Glasgow, Cardiff at home and then a trip to the Aviva Stadium on 7 October to face old rivals Leinster.

Should they be battling near the top come the league run-in, two of the final three outings will be away in South Africa.

Munster will do well to maintain last year’s consistency in the regular season where they had the meanest defence – an average concession of just over 14 points a game – on their way to losing just three games, compared to nine from the previous year.

Champions Cup

The resurgence of Munster last season was best illustrated best in Europe. A year after falling well short in the pool stages, they marched to the last four, where they were ultimately outclassed by the eventual champions Saracens.

"If we had played Saracens 10 times last season, I think we would have lost seven times," Jerry Flannery has reflected on the Dublin loss, but insisted there have been many learnings from the deflating loss.

With Saracens the benchmark – rather than just emerging from the pool – Munster will look to build on their foundations of last year.

Their Pool 4 has a familiar feel to it. Ronan O’Gara will return to Thomond Park for the second successive year, surely expecting a better return than their two defeats last year.

Leicester Tigers too will have revenge to focus their minds, the 38-0 trimming in Limerick still fresh in the minds of all concerned.

Castres are capable of Jekyll and Hyde performances, and showed their potential, when in the mood, during the 24-24 draw with Leinster last season.

Their interest levels could dip depending on Top14 standings, but pose the ability to cause problems for Munster, particularly at the Stade Pierre-Antoine

Reasons to be cheerful

While the back play was rightly credited throughout the season - Andrew Conway earned an Ireland call-up for his consistent form, Jaco Taute quickly became a fans’ favourite with his all-action style and Keith Earls was a constant menace on the wing – it was the pack that laid the foundations.

Niall Scannell (above) and John Ryan were outstanding throughout, while the backrow is one of the strongest in club rugby at present. Rarely did the unit have an off day, though Saracens were a nut that couldn’t be cracked in the Aviva.

Tyler Bleyendaal was certainly off-colour at the Aviva that day, but the Kiwi showed what he can do with a run of games under his belt. The 26-year-old picked up the club’s Player of the Year and was also was also nominated for the European Player of the Year award after a string of high quality displays.

The arrival of JJ Hanrahan could propel him to further heights this campaign as the Kerry man looks to show he is a more rounded player from the one that left these shores in 2015.

Areas of concern

Shorn of the services of Donnacha Ryan, a colossal figure in the pack, Munster are looking light in the second row in terms of leadership.

Gerbrandt Grobler should bring South African grunt to the pack, but with Billy Holland in the twilight of his career, it is an area of the team that supporters will be looking on with interest.

Critics have accused the back-play, at times, of being one-dimensional, though JJ Hanrahan and to a lesser extent James Hart, should help in that regard.

In Conor Murray they possess one of the finest number 9s in the world, but when he is missing through injury, international duty or player-welfare protocols, Munster are not quite the same team.

It goes without saying that that the upheaval surrounding Erasmus’ departure could also impact the squad negatively as the province seeks to find a suitable successor.

View from within the camp

CJ Stander

"The Lions was a great tour, it was exciting and it was nice to have a break, after three weeks I was ready to go again and get my boots on. You miss it.

"I’m looking forward to playing the South African teams. It brings a different vibe to the competition. My family-in-law is from Bloemfontein, so I go for holidays there for two weeks.

"Within South Africa, that is normally the team I would support, but now I can’t because we are going to play against them. I’ll also get two free trips to South Africa!"