Sunday 22 October 2017

Gritty win key before moving return to Paris

Memories of Axel will be central to Champions Cup clash with Racing

Anthony Foley will be in the mind of the squad when they face Racing. Photo: Sportsfile
Anthony Foley will be in the mind of the squad when they face Racing. Photo: Sportsfile

David Wallace

It's been another good week for Munster Rugby with Springbok Jaco Taute set to stay until the end of the season, and on the field they signed off 2016 with an inter-provincial derby success against Connacht.

But now comes the busy month of January and the trio of Champions Cup game that lie ahead of Rassie and the boys.

It's going to be a hectic few weeks for the province and it was disappointing to hear that Darren Sweetnam will miss it with a knee injury.

But Munster are on a great footing in Europe and in the league, and they will be packed full of confidence and courage as they face into an emotional outing in Paris.

A lot of it boils down to this amazing run they are on, and it manifested itself in a gritty victory over Connacht at the Sportsground last weekend - a vintage Munster versus Connacht Christmas derby if I've ever seen one.

The team has been very consistent and that is the mark of a good side - winning like they did at the Sportsground might not bring with it five points, but it does boost the morale of the group hugely.

It's also great to see Francis Saili back, and Dan Goggin did well alongside him in the centre against Connacht too. They were a new partnership and both of them had fine games. At the risk of singling out specific areas, because every line performs at the moment, but in the back-row Munster have bags of talent right now.

Conor Oliver looks to be a really exciting prospect and he performed well in his cameo against Connacht. He could get a bit more of role in time, but there is Robin Copeland, Jack O'Donoghue and Dave O'Callaghan coming through there too.

It's disappointing to see Tommy O'Donnell hobbling off like he did in Galway. But it's the sign of a great team when guys are pushing each other. Guys have to reach that high standard because if they don't they won't get a chance the following week. Everyone is relishing playing at the moment.

And it has all come together at the right time with three Champions Cup games on the bounce, two of which are away, so it's obviously going to be trying period for Munster. With rest required, it's a relief that they have been excused from Ireland camp this week.

Primed

It's going to be tough but Munster are primed for it. Racing 92 have lost their first three games so in that sense it's the right time to get them. It would be nicer to have them at home first and for them to be totally out of the competition but you can't have it all.

Racing are still a fantastic team. You look at their squad and home form. They are very tough to beat and they are Top 14 champions and runners-up in last season's Champions Cup. They still have that pedigree and can be very dangerous on their day.

But Munster won't underestimate them over there. Getting something from Paris should set Munster on their way to getting through this pool. They will, no doubt, be challenging in the latter stages and they are the dark horses which shows you how far they have come.

This fixture will mean so much to the players, coaching staff and the fans. Memories of October will come flooding back and it's obviously going to be tough for the guys to try and put that to the back of their minds.

Whether they stay in the same hotel or not is a different matter. It's still the same trip with the same flights and airports. The captain's run will be the same and it will be very fresh in their minds. It will definitely be an emotional match but I think they will use that emotional pain in a positive way as they have done so often already.

On the opposite side of the things, of course Ronan O'Gara will be planning Munster's downfall. Spare a thought for him; it's a strange dynamic but he too will be in a very similar situation.

He really stepped up to the mark that week following Anthony's passing, and he was one of those who was a huge help to Foley and Munster Rugby family.

It was a time when sporting rivalries paled into insignificance and the whole of world rugby rallied together for one of their former greats.

Irish Independent

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