Sunday 24 September 2017

A job well done – now for the real deal in April

Munster's Paul O'Connell is tackled by Edinburgh's Ross Ford at Thomond Park
Munster's Paul O'Connell is tackled by Edinburgh's Ross Ford at Thomond Park

Dennis Leamy

You really had to admire the way Munster went about their business last Sunday. They knew exactly what they needed to do, they knew how Edinburgh would go about their business and they dealt with it all.

You need a few breaks to advance in the Heineken Cup, but Munster left themselves with very little wriggle room when they lost their opening game to Edinburgh.

However, there has been a long history of Munster pulling qualification out of the fire at the last moment and, no more than last year, we all expected something the same this season following that setback in Murrayfield.

At the back of your mind, though, is the thought that some year it will just not happen, that the last-minute bounce will go against you instead of with you.

Yet, despite losing that opening game, qualification this season was wrapped up with a game to go. The target last weekend was to get a home quarter-final, but going into the weekend that was not in Munster's control – but it was by Sunday.

That's the sort of break you need. Toulouse not getting a bonus point in Zebre was a huge shock. They knew what they needed to do to have a home quarter-final in April and they blew it.

Munster didn't. It must have been a huge boost to the lads waking up on Sunday morning knowing that a bonus-point win would have them back in Thomond Park in April. At that stage, nobody could have envisaged it would be against Toulouse… and nobody would have cared.

dangerous

Playing a team who don't have the same stake in the game as you can work two ways. They can roll over or they can play without inhibition. They can be a dangerous team – we saw that when an understrength Montpellier side went to Ulster two weeks ago or a depleted Racing Metro put up a serious fight in Clermont last weekend.

Edinburgh had an outside chance of a place in the Amlin Challenge Cup to battle for and it showed early on. They presented a decent challenge and probably should have put a few more points on the board.

But I thought the way Munster dealt with it was superb. They were capable of going wide at any time, or they could take it up the middle. One was as effective as the other and Edinburgh didn't know what way they would go. Inevitably, it broke them down.

It really was a job well done by Munster and it wasn't all about one or two big-name players.

Johne Murphy had a huge game, while Dave Foley continues to make a huge impression. It is turning out to be a big season for the second-row.

Simon Zebo was full of running when he came on and the only downside was the injury to Keith Earls. He has been playing well this season and really could do with a bit of good luck for a change.

But while it was an accomplished performance, I think the lads will be the first to realise they can improve on it, and that's the way you want to be, coming out on top of your pool and feeling you can go up another few levels.

The Toulouse draw is great. It's hard to believe they have never been to Thomond, but the reality is that the two teams haven't clashed that much.

It's just that any time we have met, it has been the collision of two of Europe's superpowers and that has elevated those games.

Their loss at home to Connacht and, in particular, their failure to get a bonus point last weekend when it mattered, indicate that they are not quite the force of previous years.

But they will still be formidable and you only have to look at their bench each week to realise Munster have not played a team like them this season.

The game in April will give real structure to the season. Guys will be putting their hands up during the Pro12 games during the Six Nations to stake a claim for inclusion. Everyone will want to play in that match. It will be the occasion of the year.

Home advantage guarantees nothing for Munster, but it is much, much better than having to head to Toulouse.

It's a great bonus for supporters as well, something for them to look forward to and it was great to see Thomond Park packed to the rafters for a Sunday lunchtime kick-off. Maybe the good times are back?

Certainly, there is a team coming together on the pitch that nobody will fancy taking on.

And that includes Toulouse.You need a few breaks to advance in the Heineken Cup, but Munster left themselves with very little wriggle room when they lost their opening game to Edinburgh.

However, there has been a long history of Munster pulling qualification out of the fire at the last moment and, no more than last year, we all expected something the same this season following that setback in Murrayfield.

At the back of your mind, though, is the thought that some year it will just not happen, that the last-minute bounce will go against you instead of with you.

Yet, despite losing that opening game, qualification this season was wrapped up with a game to go. The target last weekend was to get a home quarter-final, but going into the weekend that was not in Munster's control – but it was by Sunday.

That's the sort of break you need. Toulouse not getting a bonus point in Zebre was a huge shock. They knew what they needed to do to have a home quarter-final in April and they blew it.

Munster didn't. It must have been a huge boost to the lads waking up on Sunday morning knowing that a bonus-point win would have them back in Thomond Park in April. At that stage, nobody could have envisaged it would be against Toulouse… and nobody would have cared.

Dangerous

Playing a team who don't have the same stake in the game as you can work two ways. They can roll over or they can play without inhibition. They can be a dangerous team – we saw that when an understrength Montpellier side went to Ulster two weeks ago or a depleted Racing Metro put up a serious fight in Clermont last weekend.

Edinburgh had an outside chance of a place in the Amlin Challenge Cup to battle for and it showed early on. They presented a decent challenge and probably should have put a few more points on the board.

But I thought the way Munster dealt with it was superb. They were capable of going wide at any time, or they could take it up the middle. One was as effective as the other and Edinburgh didn't know what way they would go. Inevitably, it broke them down.

It really was a job well done by Munster and it wasn't all about one or two big-name players.

Johne Murphy had a huge game, while Dave Foley continues to make a huge impression. It is turning out to be a big season for the second-row.

Simon Zebo was full of running when he came on and the only downside was the injury to Keith Earls. He has been playing well this season and really could do with a bit of good luck for a change.

But while it was an accomplished performance, I think the lads will be the first to realise they can improve on it, and that's the way you want to be, coming out on top of your pool and feeling you can go up another few levels.

The Toulouse draw is great. It's hard to believe they have never been to Thomond, but the reality is that the two teams haven't clashed that much.

It's just that any time we have met, it has been the collision of two of Europe's superpowers and that has elevated those games.

Their loss at home to Connacht and, in particular, their failure to get a bonus point last weekend when it mattered, indicate that they are not quite the force of previous years.

But they will still be formidable and you only have to look at their bench each week to realise Munster have not played a team like them this season.

The game in April will give real structure to the season. Guys will be putting their hands up during the Pro12 games during the Six Nations to stake a claim for inclusion. Everyone will want to play in that match. It will be the occasion of the year.

Home advantage guarantees nothing for Munster, but it is much, much better than having to head to Toulouse.

Certainly, there is a team coming together on the pitch that nobody will fancy taking on.

And that includes Toulouse.

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