Saturday 3 December 2016

Time is right for Foley's boys to kick on

More games the better for Munster to test weakened rivals

David Wallace

Published 02/10/2015 | 02:30

Francis Saili has been a superb addition to the Munster squad on and off the pitch
Francis Saili has been a superb addition to the Munster squad on and off the pitch
Rory Scannell in action during training

With the World Cup taking centre stage, you'd be forgiven if you forget about the Pro12.

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Munster take on Glasgow tonight in their first game at Thomond Park this season, and hopefully a big crowd will turn up to cheer them on.

It is difficult at the start of the season, when the crowds aren't as plentiful and the atmosphere is more subdued. It might not seem as intense as you would get later in the season for the crunch matches. But those are the challenges you face and the guys should raise their games accordingly.

Munster will target a win here especially after what happened last season. On the opening day they lost to Edinburgh at Thomond. And that will be very relevant for the lads here. No doubt, they will have talked about that in the build-up.

Glasgow are missing the vast majority of their squad too, so a Munster win is expected, and that victory over Ospreys has done wonders for them. They have been feeding off that during the break and are in a very good head-space.

Francis Saili has been fantastic on and off the pitch, from what I hear. He is a key leader and has all the attributes to really make an impact with the province. Mark Chisholm has added so much too with his bags of experience, and that's something Munster need without Paul O'Connell's influence.

Munster have quality throughout the squad now. They have matured well, it was a young team but they have grown together. You are starting to see the fruits of all of that.

You are hoping guys remain fit but the thoughts of Saili, Simon Zebo and Keith Earls linking up together gets the juices flowing, and I can't wait to see that first game when they combine together. With Felix Jones also in form, there is a lot of positives in that backline and a lot to look forward to.

Of course Ireland are in a similar mindset ahead of their clash with Italy on Sunday.

They haven't done a whole lot wrong so far this World Cup and the win over Romania was another calm and clinical performance.

The manner of it was very good and the back three competition only intensifies further again.

Competition

Even when Rob Kearney came on late in the game - he would have seen Zebo and Earls - it looked as though he knew he had to prove his worth. The competition for all positions is crazy, even at hooker - Richardt Strauss was brilliant on Sunday. He will battle it out with Rory Best and Sean Cronin there.

In the second-row it's really intense too, and then in the back-row I felt Chris Henry was fantastic. But you have Henderson to come back in somewhere in the back five, so it's great for Irish rugby to peak at a World Cup.

I'm surprised that Jared Payne came in for some unfair criticism - he deserves his place in the starting 15 because he's just so consistent. I thought he played really well against Romania, he was the strike runner and made the hard yards early that gave Ireland momentum.

He has done excellently for Ireland, he will always be compared to Brian O'Driscoll to his detriment, but Bod's a once-in-a-life-time player. Payne is probably one of Ireland's most underrated players, so he needs to keep his place.

Italy coach Jacques Brunel said he is fearing a hammering from Ireland this weekend, but I think that it is just a bit of mind games from him. Italy never really do so well against teams below them in the rankings, like Canada, but they can always raise their game when it comes to the big boys.

I expect it to be a hugely physically encounter, and with Sergio Parisse coming back for them it will be massive.

They will raise their game but they need to improve so much, that I don't think it will be possible to trouble Ireland. If Ireland stick to what they know and do the simple things right, they will pull through.

England have their own World Cup final tomorrow, when they face Australia in a crucial game. They cracked under the pressure against Wales last weekend and cannot afford the same again this week. So there's plenty of top-class rugby to look forward to this weekend.

The World Cup just keeps giving and giving, and hopefully Munster can do the business in the Pro12 too.

Irish Independent

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