Sunday 4 December 2016

Munster rely on instinct to survive law of jungle against hungry Tigers

Published 12/12/2015 | 02:30

Munster will be hoping that Conor Murray can make an impact on his return
Munster will be hoping that Conor Murray can make an impact on his return

Thomond Park welcomes what Denis Hurley terms "the old enemy" tonight and it is not over-stretching things to say that his province's waning status as a European force is on the line.

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Indeed, the entire health of an organisation that thrives on nights such as these - even if the venue may not sell out - would be imperilled were Leicester Tigers to replicate their stunning win here eight years ago.

Back then, Munster lost in Limerick for the first time ever in Europe.

Way back when, they were in between European triumphs as well as mid-construction of their spanking new palace; the latter nowadays seems more and more inappropriate the more distant the former recedes into the rear-view mirror.

Leicester, whose European titles are even more distant, 2001 and - how could Munster fans forget? - 2002, were also re-constructing in 2007, a fact which we were reminded of during the week while doing some research on Anthony Foley's loan signing Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.

In 2007, so cash-strapped were Leicester during their commitment to bricks and mortar, when they were offered the chance to sign two overseas players - one of whom was Amorosino - they could only afford one.

Salary

Meanwhile, superstar Doug Howlett was joining Munster. This week, Leicester confirmed the re-signing of Manu Tuilagi on a deal worth north of a half-million salary; they have moved on, Munster are, at best, standing still.

Special circumstances must combine for them to hit spectacular heights this evening, beginning with the presumption that returning world-class players - chiefly, Conor Murray, their conductor, and BJ Botha, their enforcer - can hit expected standards. They must also engage the crowd.

"We need to get them involved early," says Hurley. "The more vocal they are, the bigger the boost it gives us. We need to make it as scary as possible for Leicester. The fans love the old enemy coming over here."

Munster have been pretty poor for two weeks and while they historically used to thrive in Europe despite treating the league with disdain, that is less acceptable nowadays.

Leicester are stronger than ever and, despite the elaborate width deployed in the past 12 months by new head coach Aaron Mauger, their front five remains brutish and their back-row looks far superior.

Little should logically point to a home win; only desperate need, that sense of urgency which emerges instinctively on nights such as these.

They may not be as good as the teams that went before them but their spirit can still sometimes evoke the lingering memories of former glories.

Verdict: Munster

Munster - A Conway; K Earls, F Saili, D Hurley, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; J Cronin, N Scannell, BJ Botha, D Foley, D Ryan, R Copeland, D O'Callaghan, CJ Stander. Reps: M Sherry, D Kilcoyne, J Ryan, M Chisholm, J O'Donoghue, T O'Leary, T Bleyendaal, L Gonzalez Amorosino

Leicester Tigers - T Veainu; A Thompstone, M Smith, S Bai, V Goneva; O Williams , B Youngs; M Ayerza, T Youngs, D Cole, G Kitchener, M Fitzgerald, E Slater capt, B O'Connor, L McCaffrey. Reps: H Thacker, M Aguero, F Balmain, D Barrow, T Croft, S Harrison, T Bell, G Camacho

Ref - Romain Poite (France)

Munster v Leicester Tigers, live, BT Sport, 7.45

Irish Independent

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