Munster ready to put their season on line
Foley’s men must find form quickly to avoid being cast to the margins
Published 29/04/2016 | 02:30
Emotion hasn't been enough for Munster in their last two games and tonight in Cork they must simply play better and take their chances rather than work themselves into a frenzy.
There is no shortage of motivation. Nobody wants to be part of the first team from the two-time European champions to miss out on the Champions Cup, but momentum and form are against them and it is Anthony Foley's job to put a plan in place to beat an Edinburgh team who occupy the final qualification place on points difference.
Victory doesn't guarantee anything, but it puts Munster in the box-seat for the final day when they welcome Scarlets to Thomond Park. The Welsh region will be fighting for a top-four place when they visit Limerick, so a result is not a given.
Italians aside, Foley's men have not put back-to-back league wins together since November when they narrowly beat today's opposition in Murrayfield.
Confidence can't be high and a week in which the head coach was effectively demoted can't have helped with focus.
"We've got to take things that are outside our control back into our control," Foley said.
"You're more comfortable when you're in that situation rather than relying on other results, particularly when you're getting to this stage of the situation.
"Unfortunately at this stage, we're not in control of our destiny, we need to get that back within our control if possible. That will take a massive performance against Edinburgh. It's easy to be negative at the moment. It's important for us as coaches to be positive because everything else they've been hearing is negative.
"We just need to keep a balanced view on it. They're not the worst people in the world, and when things are going well they don't know it either.
"It's about getting the middle ground with everything you do and accepting that, making sure we can drive on. We've a good group of players who are willing and care about Munster rugby, who want to give their best and it's about us trying to get that out of them."
Tonight, Munster's battle begins at the set-piece.
Donnacha Ryan's enforced absence weakens them at lineout time, while Edinburgh arrived with the Scotland front-row who have a growing reputation for destruction.
Connacht did a job on the Reds' scrum last time out and, although there was unhappiness at the referee's interpretation, there is surgery to be done before facing Alisdair Dickinson, Rob Ford and WP Nel.
"It's an international scrum, they are very good," Foley conceded.
"We did a good job on them over in Murrayfield and it's about presenting a good picture to the referee. Some of the scrums against Connacht, some we won, some we lost, it's about getting a consistent performance in that scrum.
"You can't go and accept that they have a strong scrum, you have to go after it and test it. We have to come at them as a pack."
That will be the first point of engagement, but even if Munster can get parity there is still much work to do.
Tommy O'Donnell has recent experience of facing John Hardie when the duo went head-to-head in the Six Nations and the Kiwi openside is a serious operator who will need managing at the breakdown.
Foley needs CJ Stander to recapture his early-season form, but the Reds can't be reliant on the ball-carrying Ireland international who needs support. Munster possess plenty of threats behind the scrum where Johnny Holland again gets the nod over Ian Keatley and on home soil at Irish Independent Park, the Corkman needs to keep up his remarkable record from the kicking tee while providing the backline with good ball.
The beleaguered Reds need more from Francis Saili who has the talent to release Keith Earls and Simon Zebo with his footwork and offloading ability, but too often appears to be on a different page to everyone else.
The smaller, more compact venue should help matters. Backed by a vociferous crowd, Munster's task is clear.
"It's massive for us," Foley said.
"But you can't load up on the players with the whole emotion, the whole weight of it. This is about getting a performance, so we need to focus in on the jobs, the small jobs, the boring jobs that nobody will really get credit for.
"We need to focus in on them and make sure our set-piece is right and make sure we control the game, make sure we make our tackles, we stay in structure, both in attack and defence. Try and go moment to moment and make sure we are the best in every moment that we come across."
It is bound to be tense and Edinburgh have every incentive to spoil the party as they did last season, but home advantage should be enough to edge the spoils for a Munster side running out of chances.
MUNSTER - S Zebo; A Conway, F Saili, R Scannell, K Earls; J Holland, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, S Archer; D Foley, B Holland; CJ Stander (capt), T O'Donnell, D O'Callaghan.
Reps: M Sherry, J Cronin, J Ryan, R Copeland, J O'Donoghue, D Williams, I Keatley, R O'Mahony.
EDINBURGH - B Kinghorn; D Hoyland, M Scott, A Strauss, T Brown; J Tovey, S Kennedy; A Dickinson, R Ford (capt), WP Nel; A Bresler, B Toolis; J Ritchie, J Hardie, C Du Preez.
Reps: R Sutherland, J Andress, A Toolis, M Bradbury, S McInally, S Hidalgo-Clyne, C Dean, D Fife.
Ref - I Davies (Wales)
Munster v Edinburgh,
Live, TG4, 7.35