Tuesday 28 March 2017

David Wallace: Players can take belief from display

Perfect send-off for Axel brought delivery of classic Munster rugby

Niall Scannell practises his line-out throwing. Picture: Sportsfile
Niall Scannell practises his line-out throwing. Picture: Sportsfile
Peter O’Mahony challenges CJ Stander during training in UL. Picture: Sportsfile

David Wallace

It was a special, charged and poignant atmosphere in Thomond Park last Saturday. 

It's been a long time since I've been at a game where everyone is in their seats that long before kick-off. To finish their warm-up the players ran half a lap before they went in and the crowd were on their feet. 

It was a moment when the hairs stood on the back of your neck and you knew the players felt it too. It must have been a very special feeling, especially for the younger guys and the foreign contingent who wouldn't have experienced that before. 

Thomond Park is incomparable on European Cup day. But there was so much more meaning there, and it was a fitting tribute to Axel. 

The players and management had to deal with all of the shock, and somehow do the work-load, pick themselves up and put in a massive shift against Glasgow. And they did everyone proud. 

Rassie Erasmus hit the nail on the head when he said not to go and win for Axel but to play how Axel would have wanted them to play. 

They captured Axel's spirit and it will give them massive belief going forward. Most of them were unaware that they were that good: they pushed their own boundaries and now they know what they are capable of.

Axel tried to convey that to them, but it's very hard to do that unless you believe it deep down. They will get so much inspiration from that, and that's what Axel wanted.

When we were coming through Declan Kidney always tried to get that across to us. Coming from where we were, he was forever trying to get us to believe in ourselves and from the stories I heard, Axel was always trying to instil that confidence in the current group of Munster players too.

In a match where it was obviously going to be very heated, Glasgow weren't going to come and lie down, but they were no match for Munster on the day and the boys turned in an epic performance.

A lot of past players met up with the team in the Clarion Hotel after the game. We had a few drinks there, and a few of the young guys were saying it was one of the best days of their lives. That was so refreshing to hear, but on the evidence of last week there is every chance for many more great days.

It's back to the grindstone this evening and going to Kingspan Stadium at any time of the season is difficult, but especially now because Ulster had such a great win last weekend against Exeter Chiefs. They are top of the Pro12 and they are a talented side that are in form.

Ulster are proving a lot to themselves this year and they are going to be a massive force throughout this campaign. And I'm sure Ulster will be delighted that Munster got last week's game out of their system - they didn't want to face that backlash.

No doubt last week and the game against Glasgow will take its toll on the Munster squad and management. But with the way they performed, they know their potential and they will want to get back to that. 

Ulster have incredible talent, especially in their back three where Jared Payne, Charles Piutau and Andrew Trimble were great against Exeter, and Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson ran the show from half-back.

They always have massive depth in their squad, and up front they are very solid too. They try to bully sides around the pitch, and with hooker Rory Best they have one of the best tactical minds. 

Munster certainly won't be complacent and they will want to build on what they did last week. They will be able to test themselves against the league leaders and show what did against Glasgow is no fluke.

Everything from the scrum, the physical dominance up front, the new and foreign players stepping up, and the leadership shown by the senior members of the match-day 23, they were all amazing and enabled Munster to play out of their skin.

With this new-found belief Munster can be real contenders, not just in the league but also in Europe. If they stave off injuries to key individuals and keep this squad together, they will be back challenging for silverware and carrying the torch forward.

Irish Independent

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