Tuesday 26 September 2017

Alan Quinlan: One incident in Saturday's emotional win summed up where Munster are at the moment

Munster can kick on with confidence after proving they don’t have to rely on emotion alone

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony shows his delight as team-mate CJ Stander powers over for his side’s second try against Racing 92 in Paris on Saturday Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony shows his delight as team-mate CJ Stander powers over for his side’s second try against Racing 92 in Paris on Saturday Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Alan Quinlan

I'm not sure there will ever be complete closure on Anthony Foley's passing, but certainly because of how it happened in Paris, everyone involved will be relieved that Saturday's game is finally over.

It was incredible to see the amount of people who travelled, most of whom were probably there back in October.

It is further proof that the connection between the team and the supporters is back to where it used to be, and even though it has taken something so tragic for it to happen, it's crucial that bond exists.

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There was pressure on everyone going back to Paris, and the way that Racing handled themselves as a club was fantastic.

It was really special to see all the banners that they had up and also how the players and coaches wore the red T-shirts with Axel's name on them.

Rassie Erasmus has already said that as a squad, Munster honour Anthony in their own way in the same way we all do as former team-mates and friends.

Everyone expected the emotion with which the players are playing to have a different effect rather than a winning one. But you can't get away from the fact that, putting the emotion to one side, the team are playing well.

Anthony's passing has certainly acted as an extra motivating factor and has galvanised the supporters and the team but Erasmus has them playing clinical rugby that isn't all that dissimilar to what they were trying to do last season.

We had a very close bond when we were winning Heineken Cups and that close relationship is always half the battle before you even step foot onto the pitch.

You have to want to go that extra yard for the guy next to you and this group have that fight and determination within them at the moment.

If there was one incident in Saturday's win that summed up where Munster are at the moment, it was CJ Stander's try. Having made the block-down, the easy thing to do would have been to pat himself on the back and walk back into the line but Stander sprinted and arced back around to receive the ball and show another turn of pace to score a magnificent try.

It might seem like a small thing but that doesn't happen unless you have a huge hunger to succeed.

That doesn't mean that Munster are the finished article by any means but what they've done in the last few months has been incredible. To lose one game in 11 at any level deserves credit.

Donnacha Ryan is looking back to his best. He's had a tough time of it with injuries and speaking from experience, it can take time to get back up to speed. He looks super fit and he's putting in some massive tackles and playing superbly.

You talk about creating your own legacy and that's exactly what the back-row are doing. They have a great balance about them.

The strength in depth is slowly building again and being able to bring the likes of Keith Earls, Francis Saili and Dave Kilcoyne off the bench typified that.

Erasmus made a good point when he was looking at the pool when the draw was made. He questioned where the so-called 'easy' game was and even suggested that Munster might have been looked at as just that.

Racing are French champions and were beaten by an outstanding Saracens side in the Champions Cup final. Leicester beat Munster twice last season, while Glasgow were Pro12 champions the year before last.

Racing should have provided a much tougher challenge than they did on Saturday and a lot of that was down to Munster's performance, although there will be a realisation in the squad that an altogether different challenge lies ahead in Glasgow on Saturday.

With all the emotion that came with the game back in October, it was difficult to judge Glasgow but they will feel as if they paid their respects to Axel. They owe Munster one and will be confident that they can beat them at home. There is a huge prize at stake here, with three teams looking for top spot.

If you were to be in any way critical of Munster, they perhaps should have been more clinical in Paris. They dominated possession early on but it took them 22 minutes to score a try. It was an excellent performance from a work rate point of view but they will feel as if they can be even better.

When they review the video, they will realise that if they get similar chances in Glasgow, they have to take them. They are likely to only get a couple of those opportunities and not making them count could cost them.

For all of the victories that they have racked up this season, the defeat in Welford Road will have provided them with the most lessons.

If Munster win on Saturday, they will be looking at a home quarter-final, which would be some achievement considering they didn't get out of their pool in the last two seasons. No-one will be getting too excited, however, because there are two tough weekends still to come.

Munster are in control of the pool as we enter the crucial period but they haven't just relied on emotion to get them there. Their game-plan and execution has improved and the younger players have matured immeasurably.

They've got better and better as the season has gone on and they will have to continue to do so if they are to get the rewards. They are working incredibly hard for their victories and they seem to relish that.

There is a long way to go in the season, but having returned to Paris and come away with the best possible result, Munster will feel as if a weight has been lifted from their collective shoulders.

Irish Independent

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