JAMES COUGHLAN will lead Munster at the Sportsground tomorrow night and the back-row believes that his side's season may come down to how well they fare over the next five weeks.
Munster play the first of back-to-back derby games tomorrow against Connacht and Coughlan reckons the importance of the next phase of matches cannot be underestimated for the province.
"It's a massive five weeks for the club, the derby games are always massive occasions," Coughlan said.
"If we don't get what we want out of the next five weeks we're going to be struggling for the top four and we certainly won't have qualified for the Heineken Cup."
Coughlan firmly believes they can still make the knockout stages despite the losses to Racing Metro and Saracens.
"I don't think anything changed. I believed beforehand that we needed to win all the games, but that would have meant we topped the group.
"However, the way things are panning out I think 20 points – and it has been proven in the past – could do it.
"I think we need to get between 19 and 21 points and if we do that we will certainly be in the shake-up," he added.
Rob Penney has rung the changes for the first Christmas derby, with Coughlan one of five players to retain their place from Sunday's defeat to Saracens at Vicarage Road.
MUNSTER – D Hurley; J Murphy, C Laulala, J Downey, L O'Dea; I Keatley, P Stringer; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, S Archer; D O'Callaghan, B Holland; P Butler, T O'Donnell, J Coughlan (Capt). Reps: S Henry, W du Preez, BJ Botha, D Foley, S Dougall, D Williams, JJ Hanrahan, D Barnes.