How Munster can reap rewards of west Cork rugby revolution

Ireland’s Jake Flannery and Josh Wycherley celebrate after the victory over France in last Friday’s U20 Six Nations clashat Musgrave Park. In addition to weighing in with two tries, Wycherley’s scrummaging was rock-solid, despite a big weight disparity with his opposite number. Picture: Inpho/Ryan Byrne

In the midst of the Six Nations hype, the provincial coaches beaver away with reduced playing resources, trying to keep the ship afloat and a season’s work on track over a series of Guinness PRO14 games which, by and large, pass unnoticed. During this window, Munster defeated the Southern Kings and the Ospreys, but fell to a narrow defeat, away to Scarlets, enabling Glasgow to leapfrog them into a three-point lead at the top of Conference A, with five rounds to play.

With no game until March 23, Munster may have just enjoyed a down week, but it proved a very encouraging, productive, and informative few days for those entrusted with identifying and shaping the next wave of talent to keep the flag flying in the provinces. With so many players from outside the province now starting regularly for Munster, it is vital that a strong core of homegrown talent is coming through the schools, youth, and club systems, in order to maintain that unique provincial identity.

Over a decade ago, when Munster were reviewing the key elements that underpinned the Heineken Cup-winning squads of 2006 and 2008, it was set as a core value that Munster would seek to have 75% of the matchday squad manned by players who learned their trade from within. With the passage of time, that is proving increasingly challenging. Leinster are the only Irish province achieving anywhere near that ratio. It says something for their production line that 18 of the matchday 23 who won the Champions Cup, in Bilbao, last May, were direct products of their system.

The balance featured a highly acceptable roster of three overseas players, in captain, Isa Nacewa, Scott Fardy, and Jamison Gibson-Park, along with Robbie Henshaw and Sean Cronin, products of the Connacht and Munster academies, respectively. After struggling for years for representation on various Irish underage sides, a huge amount of work has gone into rectifying that issue in Munster and is now beginning to bear fruit.

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