Munster out-half Ian Keatley believes that Irish rugby is in a particularly strong place at the moment and that it’s only a matter of time before this is reflected in silverware, particularly in Europe.
The 30-year old, the second most experienced player in the Munster squad facing Racing 92 in Paris on Sunday, believes that the good systems put in place in Ireland are about to pay a big dividend.
Munster are without silverware since winning the Celtic League in 2011, while an Irish team has not reached the Champions Cup final since Leinster won their third in four years when they defeated Ulster in the 2012 decider.
But Keatley, who has now chalked up 165 appearances since joining Munster in 2011 — only Billy Holland in the present squad has played more — believes the tide is about to turn.
The situation reached crisis point two seasons ago when no Irish team made the knockout stages, while a year earlier only Leinster made the quarter-finals.
Last year was a big improvement with both Leinster and Munster reaching the semi-finals, although both were well beaten by Clermont Auvergne and Saracens.
“Two years ago when no Irish teams made the knockouts, I think there was a worry there but I think it shows how great Irish rugby is at the moment that we have great systems in place, great schools rugby, great club rugby and great academies.
“I know other teams are going out and buying other players but we’re bringing through young players through our systems which is unbelievable and then I think if we can bring in one or two experienced players from abroad to help those players.
“I think that is what is so good about Irish rugby, we have got a nice blend and balance and we’re not just all about bringing in the kind of players who mightn’t necessarily fit in here but I think that’s what’s so exciting about Irish rugby and that’s why people warm to Irish rugby so much,” said Keatley, who made 57 appearances for Connacht after joining from the Leinster academy.
It took him some time to get going with Munster but he has chalked up 1,174 points for the Reds, second only to Ronan O’Gara, with 261 of these coming in 36 appearances in Europe’s premier competition.
He feels they are going into these two concluding pool games away to Racing and at home to Castres in confident form, but is under no illusions about the task at hand in restoring Munster to glory.
“We’re building nicely and these next two weeks will hopefully put us in a good position to win something but you don’t win something until May so let’s see how we’re getting on then.”
He has been impressed by Racing’s form this season but feels that it is the progress Munster are making that will be the deciding factor against the Parisians on Sunday.
“I think their performances of late they have shown they are a very good team and have a very good squad and anyone who is stepping in is really putting their hand up.
“But for us we have got to look at ourselves and we need to keep getting better and we need to improve so it’s a good little carrot for us to focus on, you put yourself in place for championships now at this time of year but you don’t win them now,” he added.