Sunday 4 December 2016

Desperation can drive Munster to overcome the odds

Published 16/04/2016 | 02:30

Robbie Henshaw returns to his occasional full-back home which in turn allows the sensational
Matt Healy revert to his more familiar wing berth Photo: Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw returns to his occasional full-back home which in turn allows the sensational Matt Healy revert to his more familiar wing berth Photo: Sportsfile

Another notable moment of history: for the first time in the professional era, Connacht have earned enough substantial support to be chalked up as favourites to beat Munster.

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The spread margin may be merely two points but it represents a seismic shift; despite the regularly risible attempts from the athletes involved to decry an occupation that is centuries old, turf accountants don't tot up these figures for fun.

This marketplace reflects reality; Connacht are expected to beat Munster; Munster are expected to lose to Connacht.

"We're back to underdogs which is where we like it," confirms Keith Earls, one of Munster's elder statesmen, outlining the sober new reality.

Connacht, remaining true to their principles that their mindset refused any invitation to set up a drop-goal attempt in France last weekend - foolhardy or brilliantly brave, depending on one's viewpoint - will be wounded.

Munster have their own mentality too, yet it seems to serve as entrapment rather than emancipation; their panic, at various moments, in the final endgame at the Aviva a fortnight back reflected this.

Munster and Connacht lost their last games in different ways but for the same reason; there is never a good way to lose but, at the very least, Connacht's hints at improvement, Munster's at inhibition.

There has been incessant talk of how much "effort" and "work" Munster players and staff are investing; that should be a pre-requisite for any side in red; what they need is more inspiration, not necessarily an excess of perspiration.

Munster supporters will hope that their team has moved on as an absence from Champions Cup rugby could have devastating consequences; they are the only Irish side not to face Italian opposition in the final three weeks so every single point is vital.

Munster make three changes but the most pivotal decision could be the one change Foley decided not to make, with Johnny Holland keeping his ten shirt.

Form seems to be rewarded; Darren Sweetnam replaces Andrew Conway on the right wing and the back-row looks tasty, with CJ Stander moving to blindside to allow Jack O'Donoghue and Tommy O'Donnell to complete the trio.

Danie Poolman's injury has forced Pat Lam into change also; Robbie Henshaw returns to his occasional full-back home which in turn allows the sensational Matt Healy revert to his more familiar wing berth

Aly Muldowney replaces Andrew Browne in the second-row while Eoin McKeon, a late withdrawal with illness in France, is fit enough to return, so James Connolly steps aside.

Munster hope to learn the lessons of their early season reverse in Thomond Park when they weren't able to hold on to possession and then struggled to convert when they had it; Leinster's defeat here last month followed a similar trend.

Connacht can afford to lose another game; Munster cannot; that desperation may suffice to haul the away side over the line. It's about time they upset the odds.

Verdict: Munster

Connacht -R Henshaw; N Adeolokun, B Aki, P Robb, M Healy; S O'Leary, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham; U Dillane, A Muldowney; S O'Brien, E McKeon, J Muldoon (capt). Reps: J Harris-Wright, R Loughney, JP Cooney, A Browne, J Connolly, J Cooney, J Carty, F Carr.

Munster - S Zebo; D Sweetnam, F Saili, R Scannell, K Earls; J Holland, C Murray; J Cronin, M Sherry, S Archer; D Ryan, B Holland; CJ Stander (capt), T O'Donnell, J O'Donoghue. Reps: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, J Ryan, R Copeland, J Coghlan, T O'Leary, I Keatley, A Conway.

Ref - B Whitehouse (WRU).

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