Tuesday 27 September 2016

Talent is there to win final three games

Expect Munster to take victory with solid defensive display in Galway

David Wallace

Published 15/04/2016 | 02:30

James Cronin and Duncan Casey go through their paces at training in UL. Photo: Sportsfile
James Cronin and Duncan Casey go through their paces at training in UL. Photo: Sportsfile
Shane Buckley stretches before training. Photo: Sportsfile

This weekend provides Munster with the chance to turn their season around, and with the hunger they possess, and the possible toll that last weekend's defeat to Grenoble took out of Connacht, I think Munster can do it.

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Having lost to Connacht at Thomond Park already this season Munster will be going to the Sportsground with revenge on their mind. But this game means so much more than just revenge.

With just three games remaining in the Pro12 season, Munster are just one point ahead of seventh-placed Edinburgh. At this stage, everything is must-win and these few games could be the biggest in Munster's history.

To miss out on qualification for the Champions Cup could have disastrous consequences for Munster, Irish rugby and even the Pro12. The league needs Munster to be operating in European rugby's top tier, and this weekend could make things a lot clearer in the qualification race.

In the other fixtures, Leinster clash with Edinburgh and hopefully Leinster can do Munster a favour there. Scarlets versus Glasgow is another big one - there could be a lot of change in the top positions.

But Munster can only control their own result and they are coming up against a Connacht side who have been playing the most exciting rugby in the Pro12 all season. They have 51 tries in the league, second only to Cardiff, but their fatal flaw is their defence, and lack of maturity when it comes to seeing out the big games.

Connacht need a few harsh lessons like last weekend to really help them form into a great team. And they are well on the road to becoming the finished article. But Munster should have enough to take advantage of any lapses in the Connacht psyche tomorrow.

Connacht could be physically and mentally drained after a remarkable outing in Grenoble where they arguably deserved to win the match. But even if you deserve to win a game, it doesn't always mean you will. Connacht should have put that game to bed twice, and they didn't.

Leader

They lacked a leader to settle things and maybe waste some time. Their philosophy off all-out attack can be devastating at times. But it does result in them coughing up possession all too often. And the opposition thrive on those little inaccuracies.

Munster know how to win those tight battles, and although they went agonisingly close against Leinster two weeks ago they will have learned a lot from that game. They have the more mature squad too, and with the sole focus on Connacht for the past few weeks they can push on now.

It can be difficult to switch focus between Europe and the league, and Connacht will have to alter their mental capabilities this weekend. They will need to change their mindsets and Pat Lam might look for something different to counter Munster's style. Munster need to focus on their defence.

They were brilliant for most of the game against Leinster - one lapse let Johnny Sexton in, but outside of that they were almost perfect.

If they bring that rush defence, and big physicality they can get the better of Connacht and that would be such a huge confidence-booster with the remaining games against Edinburgh and Scarlets at home.

Realistically, qualification for the Champions Cup is the main target at the moment, but a big win over a team like Connacht, and if other results go their way this weekend, Munster could be back in the race for the play-offs.

But for the moment they will need to put that Connacht defeat from earlier in the season to the back of their minds. That was a tough one to take and it set Munster back mentally; they went on to get knocked out of the Champions Cup at the pool phase.

This game has a whole new level of importance and with the younger home-grown players coming through, this is their opportunity to step up and be counted. They can shape a bit of Munster's future with one game, and one win could make all the difference to 2015-'16.

It was devastating to lose to Leinster at Aviva Stadium in the last round but a win here and all will be forgotten for the run-in.

Irish Independent

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