Friday 28 April 2017

David Wallace: No room for slips from now to the finish line

Bonus point victory is badly needed as Foley's boys welcome Zebre to Thomond

Munster’s Dave Foley leads a maul against Jordan Coghlan during training. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster’s Dave Foley leads a maul against Jordan Coghlan during training. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster’s Billy Holland contests a lineout with Sean McCarthy during squad training. Photo: Sportsfile

David Wallace

It's a big game for Munster tonight at Thomond Park, and anything other than a win will effectively end their Pro12 play-off hopes.

Ideally, they need to get a four-try bonus point from this match against Zebre; with two inter-pro derbies in the coming weeks, the games are only going to get tougher.

Munster need to keep piling on the pressure after last weekend's result in Wales. Late on in the game they would have been disappointed having played some great attacking rugby, to only be coming away with a losing bonus point but when they lost that, it must have been devastating.

Munster scored three tries at Cardiff Arms Park, and put themselves in a good position, but they couldn't see that game out and this season's failing of conceding too many points came back to haunt them.

When you score 28 points away from home it usually signifies a good day at the office, and you don't expect to come out on the wrong side of the result. But Cardiff scored 37 and now Munster are on the back foot in the remaining games.

Whether they liked it or not, Munster would have pinpointed that Round 12 game as one that they needed to win. They always had that game in hand, and they will have felt like it's a chance missed.

But they need to forget about that now, and without the game in hand it might allow them to loosen the shackles and play without the added pressure.

Zebre have a number of their internationals back this evening, and they will be very strong so it's crucial Munster don't take them for granted. There's plenty of experience in their side and Munster cannot afford to let them have a good start.

Zebre still have plenty to play for this season, with one Italian side always guaranteed their place in the Champions Cup. They are still in a straight shoot-out with Treviso to see who makes it through.

Zebre missed out last season, but they are three points ahead of Treviso with a game in hand. They know that if they can take points away from Thomond Park they will be in the driving seat for that final Champions Cup spot.

So if Munster can score first and build up a lead it might result in Zebre retreating into their shell a bit and that's when Munster could rack up a few tries.

SELECTION

And Munster have the team to do it. It's a strong selection from Anthony Foley and with a few internationals back it will add an extra spark. Munster need something at the moment, they haven't been playing that badly, but a comfortable win here could reignite them for the run-in.

It was good to see the Munster contingent in the Ireland set-up make such a positive contribution over the Six Nations and they will have a massive role to play in this run-in.

CJ Stander became one of the standout players in the Championship and he will make such a big impact for Munster again. Before he left he was churning out the man of the match performances, and his try-scoring capabilities will be a huge asset too.

After Zebre, Munster are away to Leinster and Connacht, so it's a season-defining few weeks for the province. But there's no reason why they cannot come out the other end with at least a couple of wins. It would set them up perfectly for a crack at the top four.

Munster have Scarlets at home on the last day, and that is already shaping up to be a huge encounter with so much at stake. Scarlets are third in the standings and if Munster can keep in touch with them, hopefully they could leapfrog them on the final day.

But because Munster lost that game in Cardiff last weekend they are still a long way away from securing qualification for the Champions Cup next term.

Munster are fifth in the standings with 17 games played, but Glasgow are just behind them with a game in hand and they are level on points with Munster.

Glasgow's game in hand is away to Zebre next month, and if they win that then Munster will only be clinging onto sixth spot.

Finally, I want to congratulate my nephew Ben Wallace on his victory with Blackrock in the Leinster Junior Schools Cup.

Irish Independent

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