Wednesday 26 July 2017

There's a pep in their step

Both Munster and Ireland can make it a weekend to remember

Munster players Andrew Conway, Alex Wootton, and James Cronin train at UL. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster players Andrew Conway, Alex Wootton, and James Cronin train at UL. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Dave Foley makes his point

David Wallace

Munster have had a well-deserved break, after what was an incredibly stressful and trying period, which they came out of with their heads held high and an incredible run of results.

Enticing the likes of JJ Hanrahan back to his home province, along with adding Chris Farrell and James Hart, is a sign of the positive direction in which the club is headed.

Munster have 12 wins out of 13 since October, and they will look to kick into gear straight away against Edinburgh. But as with Ireland this weekend, it's always a difficult trip when you face one of the Scottish sides on their home turf.

But Munster have the potential to go top of the table with a win this evening. When it's your game in hand, it's crucial psychologically that you take advantage of those opportunities.

Fringe

The absence of the international contingent provides the fringe players with their opportunity, and in these five games over the Six Nations a lot of Munster's up and coming talent will get their chance.

Normally with 13 players away on international duty, you would expect a slight fall-off in results, but after all this Munster team have been through in 2016-17, I am confident they can get a big return from these games.

On the international front, it's that time of the season again where Ireland gear up for a crack at another Six Nations title.

It will be the toughest tournament in years with England and France looking back to their best, and no-one knows what to expect from Scotland and Wales, while Italy can always spring a surprise.

Scotland are the dark horses. They have been playing better than their results might suggest in the last few years, but success has been a long time coming for them.

With Glasgow qualifying for the Champions Cup quarter-finals for the first time and Edinburgh going well in the Challenge Cup, their players are in form.

It won't be straight forward for Ireland. It's going to be tough and Ireland have often found it hard over in Murrayfield.

It's a tricky first outing but with Munster and Leinster getting two home quarter-finals in the Champions Cup, and Connacht having led their pool going into the final day as well, there is certainly no lack of positivity behind the Irish charge.

Irish rugby is in a great place right now. You would expect Ireland to win, but not as comfortably as when they went to Murrayfield last time out, and left with a 40-10 win and the Six Nations trophy.

Scotland are disruptive in the breakdown. And that is where Joe Schmidt focuses the majority of his attention before every game, but for this one in particular a lot of detail will go into the preparation around that area and protecting Conor Murray.

A lot of Ireland's game-plan stems from their efficient breakdown work, and it will be tough to get change from this Scottish side in that facet.

But I have a good feeling about Ireland this year, and with France and England at home it's generally a season when we go well. They have three away games but Wales haven't been performing well, and they are generally the stumbling block away from home.

Ireland had a great autumn; with wins over New Zealand, Australia and South Africa in the second half of 2016 they have unprecedented form. The win over New Zealand was a watershed moment and there's still more in the locker, even after taking the All Blacks out of their comfort zone twice. 

Ridiculous

The best example of the health of Irish rugby right now is probably in the back-row, where the competition is ridiculous. There are three or four players from both Munster and Leinster that could make any team, and they are all vying for the back-row positions in Ireland.

It might be a case of Schmidt picking horses for courses, and even when his hand is forced and injury means he cannot pick first choice, the guys coming into that back-row are top class players and they will leave it all on the pitch to retain the jersey for the next day.

Irish Independent

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