Johne Murphy is hopeful the signing of World Cup winners Damian de Allende and RG Snyman for next season can help Munster finally bridge the gap to European rugby’s elite.
The former Munster centre also believes the return of former hero Simon Zebo to his home province would be a no-brainer.
Powerful lock Snyman and midfield linchpin de Allende are set to join Johann van Graan’s side from Japanese clubs for the 2020-21 campaign having helped Rassie Erasmus’s Springboks secure the William Webb Ellis Cup in Yokohama last autumn.
Murphy played 91 times for Munster in five seasons between 2010 and his retirement from the game in 2015, a spell that includes two of the province’s seven straight Heineken Champions Cup semi-final defeats in the last 12 years.
Speaking during a media call to publicise the Feed The Heroes campaign to provide meals to HSE staff and other frontline workers during the current Covid-19 outbreak, Murphy described the South African duo’s arrival for next season as a step in the right direction to Munster’s bid to return to a European final for the first time since 2008.
“It’s a big statement of intent, to really try, in terms of two world-class players, to show where they want to move to,” he said.
“They’ve been so close over the last couple of years with the amount of semi-finals they’ve got to.”
Murphy accepts that three successive semi-final defeats for the current squad cannot become negative baggage for the players.
“I think mentally now there probably needs to be a shift, that it doesn’t become a huge drain on them when they do get to another semi-final, which is hopefully in the not too distant future,” he said.
“They’re just on the cusp — and I don’t want to be disrespectful to anyone — but they’re just not at the end level of the top two or top three in Europe, and we probably all know who they are, they’re probably just behind Racing, Toulouse, Saracens and Leinster.
“With a brand new coaching staff and a new way of attacking and stuff, you would imagine that would help, but I think for them all their focus is on getting all their star quality on the pitch at the same time. That gives them a better chance.”
Adding Munster folk hero Zebo back to the squad would also be a huge boost in that respect.
The full-back looks set to trigger an option of an extra year in Paris at Racing 92 — but the Corkman said recently his home province would be the only other club he’d sign for.
“I think Simon’s world class, and anyone would be very lucky to have Zeebs,” Murphy said of his old team-mate, “so it’s certainly worth looking at that, and trying to make sure that you bring world-class Irish guys back into the fold if it is a possibility.
"I’m sure if there was an opportunity and a financial agreement that could be reached, there would be a possibility of it happening — but I’ve no clue of either situation.”
Join rugby run and help frontline workers
Johne Murphy is encouraging rugby clubs and teams of all ages to join The Big Rugby Run on May 9 and help raise funds for the Feed The Heroes campaign.
The former Munster star came up with the idea to give players whose seasons have been cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic the opportunity to run a marathon relay, passing the virtual baton online.
Murphy has managed to attract three teams of fellow past Munster players for the run, as well as similar teams from Leinster and Connacht, while the Newbridge College team he guided to the unplayed Leinster Senior Schools Cup final has also entered.
Feed The Heroes, a fund set up to deliver meals to frontline workers in the fight to beat the coronavirus, has already raised more than €1m in its first month of operation and delivered more than 78,000 meals and Murphy wants rugby to come together to do more for the cause.
Now the rugby and sales director for PSA youth rugby academies, founded by Philippe Saint-Andre, Murphy said: “We’re trying to give rugby clubs, rugby teams of all ages the opportunity to finish out the season that they didn’t get the opportunity to.
“So we’re running a marathon within the government’s 2K guidelines, a team relay essentially and you pass your baton on virtually via social media platforms.
“It’s to get your team back together for one last day on May 9. For instance, the Newbridge College lads are doing it, we’re trying to coax Clongowes out as well and have a bit of competition.”
Murphy said he was “incredibly humbled” to be in a relay team with former Munster team-mate and now CUH doctor Tom Gleeson, Ireland women’s duo Linda Djougang, a nurse, and doctor Claire McLaughlin as well as current Munster player Billy Holland.