A new era, but haven't we said that before?

After what felt like the longest of seasons, Munster have returned to the drawing board for 2022/23; a new coaching team, a fresh start, but same question persists. When will they finally break through their ceiling?

They had their moments in 2021/22, but from the moment Johann van Graan confirmed his future move to Bath back in December, it felt like the season was drifting away from them and in the end the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final defeat to Toulouse left physical and emotional scars that they just couldn't shake.

While there have been major changes over the summer, there is a familiar hue to them. With Johann van Graan, Stephen Larkham and JP Ferreira all departing, Graham Rowntree has been promoted to the role of head coach, while he will also continue to work on the province's scrum. While he's unproven as a head coach, the Englishman has a proven track record across the last 15 years as an assistant, and his appointment has been popular amongst the fanbase.


Even more popular has been the recruitment around Rowntree, with Mike Prendergast and Denis Leamy returning to their home province to fill the attack and defence coach roles respectively. With Munster's attacking gameplan never truly impressing under Stephen Larkham, there's pressure on Prendergast to bring a greater identity to how Munster play with the ball, particularly after spending the last three seasons working with some of the game's most exciting talent at Racing 92.

With two games against Connacht bookending games against the Bulls, Leinster and Ulster in Rounds 4-8 of the BKT United Rugby Championship, making a fast start away to Cardiff and the Dragons, as well as at home against Zebre Parma, would give them a good platform heading into that crucial stretch.

Malakai Fekitoa comes in to replace Damian de Allende as the marquee signing for the season, and while on paper it's one centre replacing another, they two are very different players stylistically, and it will be fascinating to see how Munster use the former All Black.

Once again, all eyes will be on RG Snyman, whose two seasons at the province have been plagued by successive ACL injuries. The 27-year-old's return is targeted for October, and even having him on the pitch for an extended period would provide a boost as emotional as it would be physical.

As has been pointed out enough, it's now 11 years since Munster lifted a trophy, and that remains the ultimate target for Rowntree's tenure. And although they've generally traded in the currency of Champions Cup, a poor European campaign would be quickly forgotten if they could get their hands on a domestic title.

Last season: Finished sixth in URC regular season, losing 36-17 to Ulster in the quarter-final. Reached the quarter-final of the Champions Cup, beaten by Toulouse in a placekicking competition after a 24-24 draw.

Total titles: 3 (most recent in 2011)

Head coach: Graham Rowntree (first season as head coach)

Graham Rowntree: "It's got its challenges and quite rightly so. The day's a bit busier, there's a lot more people wanting a piece of your time but I'm loving it so far.

"When I spoke to you guys after being announced, the time is right for me. It has to be around who you work with, and that's the player and coaching group, It has to feel right, and a wise man knows where he is in his career."

Key player: He's been one of Munster's major weapons in recent seasons, but the last 12 months would indicate that Tadhg Beirne (above) is right in the peak form of his career. The 30-year-old managed just seven appearances for the province last season, having suffered an injury at the end of the Six Nations, but the lock was instrumental to Ireland's Test series win in New Zealand during the summer.

A gainline winner with the ball in hand, he's arguably even more dangerous at the breakdown, where his ability to poach the ball is among the best in the world. He was badly missed by Munster in the second half of last season, and if they reach the latter stages of either the URC or Champions Cup, his presence in the squad is a gamechanger.

One to watch: Even at the age of 23, there's a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Keynan Knox (above) this season. The South African tighthead has been regarded 'one for the future' for a couple of seasons, but now he has to be one for the present.

With John Ryan's departure, it leaves Stephen Archer as the only experienced tighthead in Munster's ranks, and the likelihood is that if he stays fit, Knox will be in the Munster matchday squad more often than not. He's played just 25 times in total across the last three seasons, but he could very well come close to doubling that tally in this season alone. If Munster have a big season, he'll likely have played a major role.

Players In: The province weren't hugely active transfer-wise in recent months, with the majority of the new additions to the senior squad coming up from their academy. They do have three new arrivals though, the most high-profile being former All Black and current Tonga international Malakai Fekitoa (below) joining from Wasps, filling the void left by Damian de Allende in the centre. Antoine Frisch will also provide cover in the centre, with the Irish-qualified Frenchman joining from Bristol Bears, while hooker Chris Moore joins from Exeter University. Five players have been promoted from the academy to the senior squad, among them Alex Kendellen, who established himself as a regular in the team last season, while Scott Buckley, Eoin O'Connor, Paddy Kelly and Paddy Patterson also begin their first senior deals.

Players out: Munster's squad has downsized in the off-season, with De Allende the biggest loss, the South African departing to Japan after two seasons in Ireland. Jason Jenkins makes the move to Leinster following his disappointing season in Limerick, while Jake Flannery and Declan Moore are now at Ulster. Veteran prop John Ryan signed off a long career at his home province to join Wasps with Matt Gallagher and Chris Cloete following Johann van Graan to Bath. Alex McHenry, Kevin O'Byrne and Sean French all begin new careers in the English Championship at Jersey Reds, Ealing Trailfinders and Bedford Blues respectively, while injury has forced Rowan Osborne and Jonathan Wren into retirement.

Champions Cup opponents: Toulouse, Northampton Saints

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Watch live coverage of Cardiff v Munster and Zebre Parma v Leinster (17 September), Stormers v Connacht (24 September) and Dragons v Munster (25 September) on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player.