Thursday 29 September 2016

Green shoots appear after tough month

Plenty for Axel to build on after two solid victories in Champions Cup

David Wallace

Published 29/01/2016 | 02:30

Main: Munster coach Anthony Foley adjusts the netting during training in Cork Institute of Technology, Bishopstown. Photo: Sportsfile
Main: Munster coach Anthony Foley adjusts the netting during training in Cork Institute of Technology, Bishopstown. Photo: Sportsfile
Tomas O’Leary in action. Photo: Sportsfile

It's not qualification for the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup, but a great deal of pride has been replenished, and if Munster can convert that into Pro12 form this weekend it will stand them in good stead going into the break.

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Munster weren't a million miles away from qualification in the Champions Cup either this year. But they didn't finish second and again it shows the value of winning your home games, and ensuring that you get the losing bonus points away from home.

Even when you lose a home game you need to get something from the match, and not taking anything from that defeat against Leicester Tigers at Thomond Park was a big blow to their campaign.

If a team losses a home match, in the past that would have been the end of their competition. But now with the new structure it's imperative that the head doesn't go down, because they need to salvage any bonus points that they can.

Munster finished four points behind Stade Francais, who were second in Pool 4, yet in some of the other pools the margins were much tighter and you cannot afford to miss out on points in this competition.

All Clermont had to do was slow it down, and take their simple penalty in front of the posts and they would have gone through in Pool 2. But instead Morgan Parra took the quick tap and Bordeaux-Begles ended up winning that match 37-28 - Exeter Chiefs went through as the pool winners there as a result.

But Munster have ended up on a high which is very important. It wasn't enough to see them through - they finished on 15 points with teams on 16 points getting through - but Munster certainly got a boost from those results.

With eight tries, and ten points from their final two pool games, they need to look at that as a positive, and bring it back with them into the Pro12 where it's the business end of the season and they are fifth.

In a way, they are in a slightly precarious position just inside the qualification zone for the Champions Cup next season, and they would like to be higher up the standings ahead of the short break. But looking at the way the matches fall this weekend, I don't think Munster could have hoped for much better from Round 13.

Wounded

League leaders Scarlets go to fourth-placed Connacht. Ideally that would finish in a draw, but hopefully they will take points off each other. Nothing is guaranteed for a wounded Leinster, who face a tricky assignment away to Dragons at Rodney Parade.

Edinburgh, who are third, have a tough game at Cardiff, and reigning champions Glasgow are away to Ospreys, so they may take points off each other. Ulster, still have to travel, albeit against lowly Treviso.

It looks like it is definitely set to bunch up around the top, and hopefully that will allow Munster to work their way back ahead of Round 14, a really difficult home game against Ospreys, where they will need all of the confidence they can get.

One of the major pluses from last weekend was the performance of Ronan O'Mahony. It was great to see him have such an influence and get two tries, and the man of the match award.

Only a few years ago he was setting the AIL alight, and it's great to see him come through there now. He is a powerful winger too, and that extra physicality is an added bonus. So he is pushing the impressive Andrew Conway all the way for his starting spot which is great for the squad.

And with eight tries in two games the Munster attack has proven itself again. The attack have been impressive this season, they just failed to convert chances over the Christmas period. The last few games - and hopefully this weekend - will prove to them that they have all of the talent in the world to be a really good attacking unit.

The defence is improving too, and they have only conceded two tries in their last two games in Europe which is a massive boost to the mindset. A large part of defence comes down to attitude and confidence.

Hopefully they can keep that up for the rest of the season and finish strongly, beginning with a win in Zebre.

Irish Independent

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