The visit of London Irish to Limerick last week marked the start of the 2004/2005 season for Munster and a large crowd turned out to see the Londoners register a 12-5 win over Alan Gaffney's side.
It was a bit of a mixed bag from a Munster point of view with Gaffney no doubt none too pleased with the amount of ball his side turned over or perhaps the scrappy line-out but it gave him the opportunity to give all those players outside the international arena a run out with.
Gaffney left his selected fifteen play the entire first half but he rang the changes at half-time and again half-way through the second half. So if the play on the field lacked continuity maybe that be explained by the movement to and from the sideline. One player who remained on the field for the entire game was the one wearing the number 15 jersey, Christian Cullen marking his debut with the break out from defence that ended with a try for newcomer Brian Touhy.
For Cullen this is the start to the season he would have hoped for when he first arrived here. Now he has put the troubles he experienced because of a damaged shoulder behind him and he is looking forward to the season ahead.
"I haven't had a pre-season in a few years now but I've had four or five weeks of it and it's been good, really good. There's been a few changes as well like Graham (Steadman) coming in. I think you can tell the difference even though he's only been here a short while. We didn't have a defence coach as such in Wellington, but I've always felt that League players are the best around defensively and so it's good to have one of such high quality as him coming in."
Besides the likes of Steadman, and fitness coaches Aiden O'Connell Damian Mednis and Sean Whitney, there are new players such as Mike Storey, James Storey (not related)and Paul Burke in the squad, Mike of course from Cullen's neck of the woods, " Yeh, Mike is from up north (Auckland), I played against him a few times, James is staying with us at the moment until he gets himself sorted with a house. He's a good laugh and Burkey's been here before."
" There's a good vibe this year. The boys are training harder than ever. It's been tough but they've really got stuck in."
"It's good been here from the start rather than arriving as I did. Had a good summer here. Just went away for a week. Had a few friends stay and basically stayed around Cork, played a bit of golf, had a good time."
"They were probably lucky to beat the Boks in the first game. They (Boks) had to feel hard done by when they score three tries to one and still lose but the Blacks hung in there, kicked their penalties and never gave up.
"I thought it was going to be hard in the return. Anywhere in Africa is tough but I think the toughest of the lot is J'Burg. And the Boks wont have been too happy about the way they lost so yeh, it was always going to be tough. "This is a good Boks side. They have a lot of good young guys coming through and a new coach,(Jake White) he's getting to pick the team he wants."
And the game against London Irish ? "Ah it was a bit messy. But then again it was the first game. We did some good things but we also coughed up a lot of ball and that needs to be put right, and we will. There was a lot of movement of players which means having to adjust but I wouldn't judge us on that game."