Keith Earls knows the present situation at Munster could be better but he has also been around long enough to know the province has been in worse jams than this and with less cause for optimism.
The Ireland wing has also experienced better times with his hometown club but sees comparisons in the media with not just the 2008 Heineken Cup-winning team of which he was a part, but also the current Leinster set-up burning the house down in both Europe and the Guinness PRO14, and wonders if they are fair yardsticks.
Speaking yesterday with the dust still not settled in the wake of Sunday’s 39-22 Champions Cup pool defeat at Racing 92, Earls called for greater patience while Munster still bed in a developing gameplan under Johann van Graan’s new-look coaching team including Stephen Larkham and Graham Rowntree.
Leinster’s runaway success and strength in depth hit home in Munster when Leo Cullen’s side grabbed a PRO14 victory in Limerick over Christmas and Earls understands supporters’ frustrations to a degree.
“It probably is (frustrating) and why is that?” Earls asked, “I suppose, a bigger pool to look at as well with the players. They have a lot more players playing up there. It is no excuse but we definitely should be up there with them. We have the talent to do that but unfortunately, it is not coming through at the moment. Hopefully, it does.”
While others outside the tent panic about the province, the 32-year-old thinks the critics should give Munster more time before passing judgement, despite the run of poor form against some seriously heavyweight teams in recent weeks.
“It is amazing but I suppose that’s the standard people expect of a Munster team. Over the Christmas we probably did embarrass ourselves up in Ulster by our performance. Leinster are Leinster, they are a quality side and being at home, the result was very disappointing. But last weekend, we were in it for 71 minutes and if one or two decisions went our way, then it would be a different story.
“But with Munster, we are just not used to losing three in a row and I think people just need to stop comparing us to the old Munster as well.
“They compare us to a very successful era. The game has evolved since then and the difference in rugby is completely different to what it was back then. It moves every year, the attack quality, the defence quality shifts every year. We have a young enough group and some new lads coming in. There is a new coaching staff and hopefully starting this weekend we can kick on again.”
A fairer comparison may be made in the journey Declan Kidney’s sides took before they reached the promised land and lifted the Heineken Cup for the first time in 2006.
“That is probably a bit longer for us,” Earls conceded, “but how many heartaches did they have before they won one? Being in two finals and a couple of semi-finals before they actually won it in 2006; 1996 was when it started but 1997, 1998 and 1999, 2000, 2002 they were always there or thereabouts and it was probably the same criticism.
"But the fact that no-one had done it before them and the expectation, it was seen to get into a semi-final and a final (as an achievement). But now it is completely different for us.”
A semi-final seems a long way this season with Munster’s European destiny now beyond their control as they face into a final game at home to Ospreys in Pool 4, hoping for Racing to do them a favour at Saracens and other results to go their way if they are to claim one of the three best runners-up spots in order to reach the quarter-finals.
Yet whether it is to be or not to be, Earls and company are desperate to finish the pool campaign on a high to regather momentum into the second half of the season when he feels Munster can only continue to develop under van Graan, Larkham, and Rowntree.
“Yeah, 100%. People actually don’t realise that with the World Cup and everything, and Steve and Graham coming in, Johann and his coaching staff had five games where they could pick the team, their full-strength team where they had the choice of all of the players.
“Five games under a new philosophy, Steve’s philosophy, Johann’s philosophy in what he is trying to develop.
“It is not even about playing for fans. It is about us getting better as rugby players and playing for each other and trying to push ourselves forward.
“The fans are exceptional anyway, they will always come out for us no matter what.
“We have been in worst-case scenarios but all we can do is go for a win on the weekend and it is out of our hands after that.
“Everyone needs patience because it takes some teams a full season to bed into new coaching and a new philosophy. That is not an excuse but that is the reality — that people are very impatient.”