Friday 24 February 2017

McGahan issues rallying call for Reds' Toulon test

David Kelly

David Kelly

Down, but not out. Despite Saturday's defeat, Munster's destiny lies within their own hands as they seek to continue a remarkable 12-year sequence of qualifying for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

While any succour from Saturday's bonus point was barely visible as Munster conducted a lengthy inquest behind closed doors following their defeat, it could have later ramifications, so too the favourable 5-2 try count against the Ospreys, which may be crucial should those sides finish level.

All of this will be rendered academic, however, should Munster fail in Toulon next time around.

It seems the French have been handed an unexpected lifeline in this Pool 3 despite their early humiliation in Limerick and, as they dipped bread against London Irish this fortnight, their rivals ultimately slogged themselves to a standstill.

Two from three will clearly now not prevail from this pool -- it's winner takes all.

"I'm sure coming into the competition that all four sides thought they were going to be there or thereabouts at this stage," said Munster coach Tony McGahan. "It's a quality pool and it was always going to be a tough way to go through.

"Three sides still have a chance to win it, and I'm sure that all three sides think that it's still in their control if they can win their last two matches. It's very clear what we have to do, there's no real side-shows.

"Playing away at Toulon is obviously going to require something special. It'll require everyone to the mill really, we'll have to be at the peak of our game to make sure we get the result because they're obviously going extremely well at this point in time."

Only then, perhaps, will the bonus earned here become an issue, although even at that stage, they may still have to chase a bonus at home to London Irish, to whom that opening-day defeat seems more regrettable with each passing day. "The bonus point is comfort for another day," added captain Denis Leamy. "Today it's losing the four. But it's something and you have to take every little bit you can take in this competition. There's a lot of soul-searching, hard thinking to be done over the next couple of days. There'll be no pointing fingers. We'll come back with a positive attitude. We'll use the hurt that has been given to us today."

Munster traditionally respond well when pressed in their beloved Heineken Cup and the visit to Perpignan last year will offer a fresh, stirring memory as they seek an encore of their resuscitative powers.

For their part, the Ospreys' own resourceful recovery from defeat in Limerick was impressively resilient. "I'm not one for ultimatums but during the week, I did mention that if we lost here, it would be curtains for our run," said captain Alan Wyn Jones.

As his languid coach Scotty Johnson assessed the geography of a group that he had predicted would navigate "a few bumpy roads" before reaching its destination, he too believes that his side have their destiny in their own hands.

Competitive

"Give me a coin and I'll throw it in the air," he responded when asked to assess the fiendishly competitive pool. "It'll be interesting when Toulon come here because that will be a good chance for us to control the pool. We need to go to Irish and take points there too. It's going down to the wire."

A final-day shoot-out between Ospreys and Toulon here is predicated upon whether or not the French have managed to overcome Munster in mid-January's round five of this absorbing competition.

"We've a group of players who've been around for a long time and will draw on all their experiences for that match," said McGahan, who also reiterated his hope that Paul O'Connell may return earlier from suspension in the build-up to that game.

"They'll need to, because we have to go away from home in a very tough environment against a side at the peak of their powers. They've already shown their intent to be strong in Europe and make their way through. We'll have to draw on all of our experience."

Irish Independent

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