Prendergast confident Munster and Ulster can enjoy success in France
Published 08/01/2016 | 02:30
Win your home games; it is the golden rule of European rugby and Ulster and Munster are finding out why this weekend.
Both Irish provinces must win in France this weekend if they are to stand a chance of reaching the Champions Cup quarter-finals this season, with Les Kiss' men over in Oyonnax on Sunday and the Reds facing Top 14 champions Stade Francais in Paris tomorrow evening.
The two French sides have struggled this season, with Oyonnax second from bottom with just three wins from 12 games, while Stade have followed up their glorious 2014-15 season with an under-performing start to this campaign and are just two places above the men from the Jura.
Grenoble have faced both sides in recent weeks, suffering a narrow loss at home to the champions and beating their local rivals Oyonnax last weekend. Assistant coach Mike Prendergast has seen both sides up close and is hopeful that the two Irish raiders can leave with crucial wins if things go to plan.
"On paper, Munster have a chance because of the way Stade have been playing of late," the former Munster scrum-half said.
"I know Munster's consistency hasn't been there either, they are taking a lot of flak at the moment, but I think for 70, 80pc they're playing quite well, but when they get into the opposition 22, they can build phases and do a lot of good work and when it comes to delivering the final punch there have been little mistakes and that's been tough.
"They're hurting, they got a good victory up in Ravenhill and, going to Paris, they've always prided themselves on the European Cup and when they're down a small bit, the underdog, that's when they come out on top.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they did win, but Stade are a dangerous animal at the moment. They're due to click, they're making little errors but when it sticks, they're a good side. They showed it by winning the Top 14.
"They've guys coming back into form, new guys understanding what's going on around the place."
Having won the title last season, Stade coach Gonzalo Quesada recruited big names like Will Genia and Willem Alberts, but the scrum-half has struggled to settle and the Springbok started well before getting injured.
Prendergast points to the loss of backs coach Jean Francois Dubois to the France set-up as a big factor in their drop-off in form, but believes they are getting their act together, as shown by their narrow win over Toulouse last weekend.
"I do see them coming back, they've too much quality," he said. "When you're in a small bit of a rut, a win like last week, even though they didn't play brilliant for 60 minutes, they still won against a good Toulouse team.
"Stade play with a lot of structure, they're a team who had a very good defence last year and I think it's going to be a very evenly matched game.
"Munster will look to hold on to the ball and look to outwork Stade."
As for Ulster, Prendergast believes Kiss' men will have too much for an Oyonnax side who outperformed their expectations last season but have struggled to cope on two fronts this year, while the switch from grass to a synthetic pitch at Stade des Alpes has robbed them of a home advantage.
"It's been a tough season for them so far," Prendergast said. "They saw a bit of light when they beat Stade in Oyonnax, but having watched the game there was a lot of emotion put into it because they'd a tough block of games after that.
"I can only see an Ulster win. I know they lost to Munster, but previous to that they'd been right on top of their game and that might refocus them."