Saturday 1 October 2016

Confidence boost can lift belief again

Another win against Dragons will set Foley's boys up for run-in

David Wallace

Published 04/03/2016 | 02:30

Despite last week’s win, Anthony Foley won’t be happy to see his team in joint fifth with seven games to go. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile
Despite last week’s win, Anthony Foley won’t be happy to see his team in joint fifth with seven games to go. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile

It wasn't the prettiest game ever but Munster got across the line in Treviso last weekend and that was all that mattered. I'm expecting a much more polished display this weekend and, most importantly another win back at Thomond Park.

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Munster still have that game in hand over a number of their rivals which is crucial, so as long as they can keep winning these matches, and pick up the bonus point here and there they will be right in the thick of things come the end of the season.

Saying all that, Axel won't be happy to see the guys in joint-fifth in the standings with seven games left. But the fixtures are set up nicely for a strong run-in, and if they manage to pick up a win or two against the other provinces, that will push them back into play-off contention.

But first they need to focus on Champions Cup qualification. Some big teams are going to miss out this season and Munster certainly don't want to be in that bracket. With such a proud tradition, it would be unheard of for them not to qualify and that's why they must have been delighted with how last weekend worked out.

Going to Italy, people might think it's a necessity to come back with all five points, but that's not the case anymore. Treviso are much-improved side under new management of late and they showed what they could do last weekend.

It was dreadful conditions for rugby but both sides offered up a decent spectacle, and the Italians really put it up to Munster right until the end.

Munster could quite easily have succumbed to that pressure but the scrum held firm, and the guys in the backline were superb in the second half too. Ian Keatley kicked two vital penalties as well, and that pushed Munster to victory.

John Ryan won a late penalty and it showed the resilience of the team when a prop is fighting for possession like that so late in a game; and even with Dave Kilcoyne in the sin-bin, they still had the composure to see the game out.

At the end of the season it's those morale-boosting wins that really stand to a team and hopefully that can drive Munster.

Prior to that, they had lost at home to Ospreys and away to Glasgow. Having come so close on both occasions those couple of weeks really hurt Munster, especially considering where those teams are in the table.

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It was commendable for the lads to keep their heads when Treviso were in the lead, in dreadful conditions, at Stadio Monigo. It really bodes well for the run-in, and with an experience like that it will help the guys through similar circumstances in the next few crunch fixtures.

Against Dragons, it's obvious they need to win again but it won't be easy against a side who have already beaten them at Rodney Parade this season. Munster will be seeking revenge for that.

Leinster have also succumbed to defeat at Dragons, and they were in a good position before Connacht got a couple of tries against them a few weeks ago. They have been doing well and getting close to big results lately.

They will target Munster as an opportunity to add another big scalp but Munster should have enough. As long as Munster don't start thinking of bonus points too soon they have all the artillery to get the win.

Nevertheless, a bonus point would be ideal at this stage of the season. It's be a while since Munster have had that sort of comprehensive victory and with how tight things are at the top, every point counts.

It's arguably the most competitive Pro12 ever, and teams need to be ruthless if they aspire to be in the top four.

But this weekend, top six is in the mind of Axel and his players and they will want to get some points on the board early.

Dragons have a nice spread of youthful exuberance throughout their squad they will come full of enthusiasm. However, if Munster can get a try or two early they can zap that out of them.

If they're leading at half-time with a couple of tries in the bag they can start to think of bonus points then, but a win is most important. And with their game in hand, the top four is still on the cards.

Irish Independent

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