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Munster facing up to huge task

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Anthony Foley

Anthony Foley

Anthony Foley

If Munster ever needed a miracle, this would be the time.

On the face of it, the optics don't look too dark. Clermont lead Pool One by a single point from Munster and Saracens.

It is just Anthony Foley has to take his show on the road to CA on Sunday and Saracens in January.

Munster have all the appearance of a terminal patient floating face-down in the Pool of Death.

The competitive instinct of a badly-wounded animal can be a sight to behold as it battles against all reason and expectation in the face of certain extinction.

Paul O'Connell is one such beast - Peter O'Mahony another.

"We have to go and dominate them physically," said the club captain.

It is difficult to see how that can happen in France given what happened in Limerick.

There has been much ado about the blunt-force trauma Clermont caused in round three through Number 8 Fritz Lee, tight-head pro Clement Ric, second row Jamie Cudmore and their company of wolves.

The sad reality was it wasn't what Clermont did. It was all about what Munster didn't do.

There was a strange symmetry to be drawn between what went down at Thomond and what transpired at Kingspan Stadium when Ulster hosted Toulon in round two.

Neither Irish province looked like, or played like they truly believed they were going to win.

It was as if they were beaten before the kick-off. Is that rock solid Munster belief still alive and kicking inside them?

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As the Munster song goes, you really do have to 'stand up and fight' for the cause.

It is difficult to see what Munster can do to travel from zeroes to heroes in eight days.

The game plan under Foley has regressed back to where it was when he was at number eight for the province.

The onus falls almost entirely onto the shoulders of those jerseys numbered one-to-ten.

For that to work, you need what Munster had at the turn of the century, a Rolls-Royce pack of forwards and an ace in the command centre at half-back. They have Conor Murray. They do not have Ronan O'Gara. This is no slight on Ian Keatley. He is a fine fly-half.

The aging BJ Botha or Stephen Archer do not give guaranteed stability at the scrum and Munster are struggling for fitness at loose-head, never mind the fact they are down to their third-choice hooker.

The second row is ruled by the indomitable spirit of O'Connell and his new sidekick Dave Foley. There is only so much Ireland's captain can do.

The back row contains one first-choice Ireland international in O'Mahony, the athletic Tommy O'Donnell and CJ Stander.

These men are built to carry the load. And when they can't?

There is no 'Plan B'. There can't be because Foley has planted a primary centre partnership in Denis Hurley and Andrew Smyth that is built for confrontation.

Admittedly, the introduction of Pat Howard does offer a semblance of hope in that he could just be the hammer they are looking for in that area.

This is where it starts to fall apart.

The news of the emergence of a €190,000-a-year offer from Northampton Saints to the brilliant JJ Hanrahan comes at a time when the out-half is marooned at his province.

He would instantly give Munster a change of direction at 12 through his superior passing and kicking skills.

But, the Kerryman is a maverick in the way he plays the game.

He could be just what they need.

Verdict: Clermont


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