Sport Rugby

Sunday 19 November 2017

Four tries or bust the best policy in bid for coveted home clash

After his try-scoring heroics in Gloucester (inset), Keith Earls’ eye for the line may prove crucial in Munster’s quest to secure a bonus-point win tomorrow
After his try-scoring heroics in Gloucester (inset), Keith Earls’ eye for the line may prove crucial in Munster’s quest to secure a bonus-point win tomorrow
Munster's Andrew Conway during squad training ahead of their match against Edinburgh
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Come lunchtime tomorrow Munster should have a decent picture of the scenarios that face them as they look for the favours needed to land a home quarter-final.

It might be beyond them, but they need to fulfil their part of the bargain. Losing at Murrayfield in Round 1 put the two-time champions in that position, but as they trooped off the field in the aftermath of Tim Visser's winning try that October afternoon, they would hardly have counted on being through by the time the sides met in January.

So, as the fans contemplate draining their glasses quickly and getting to the ground for the ridiculously early kick-off time, they can look at them as half-empty or half-full. They'd have taken this position a couple of months ago.

It wasn't just that loss that puts Munster's last-eight destination out of their hands this afternoon: their inability to pick up try-scoring bonus points hasn't helped, with the home win over Perpignan the only occasion they managed it.

This week in Limerick, all of the talk was of winning the match first and letting bonus points look after themselves, but fifth and sixth place in the last-eight rankings are interchangeable, with trips to Clermont or Toulouse likely, so surely the smart thing to do would be to go for four tries or bust.

It will be Peter O'Mahony's call, but it would be no surprise to see the Reds kick to the corner early and often. Munster's maul is a weapon of mass destruction and it is one they should look to use at every opportunity.

RESPECTED

Edinburgh must be respected, but the eighth-ranked side in the Pro12 have won just once on the road this season in all competitions and, for all their improvements since the nightmare campaign of 2012-13, they are far from the finished article.

An eight-day turnaround doesn't just give Munster a wide perspective on the weekend's proceedings ahead of kick-off, it also allows Rob Penney the opportunity to reward his players for their efforts against Gloucester last week.

The New Zealander's only change is to restore Stephen Archer at tighthead, with BJ Botha on the bench, while the curious case of CJ Stander continues, with the impressive South African dropped to the 'A' side as Tipperary's Paddy Butler gets the nod.

Simon Zebo's return continues on the bench and, in truth, it would have been difficult for Penney to dispose with any of his back three given the form of Felix Jones, Keith Earls and Johne Murphy.

Given he needs game time to force his way into Ireland's Six Nations plans, it appears the Cork winger's window is closing, particularly given the two weekends free of Pro12 action ahead.

Penney was fulsome in his praise of Murphy in particular after his recent run of games.

"Johne would be a real success story," the coach said of the Naas native. "He came back after pre-season in great shape and he was determined not to let the rest of his career be determined by one year, and the proof is in the pudding.

"He has played 13 for us, on the wing for us and he has played 15 and done a superb job wherever he played. It's great that he was able to take (things) on board and then produce. He's a quality footballer."

Up front, Dave Kilcoyne will be looking to impress after his international recall, safe in the knowledge that James Cronin will make an impact when introduced.

Tommy O'Donnell's breakdown battle with Roddy Grant and David Denton should be a decent benchmark two weeks out from the Six Nations opener against Scotland.

The visitors still have a shot at the Challenge Cup and will want to finish as high up the points rankings as possible -- and it is through the back-row and half-backs where they will look to win the game.

The aforementioned Scottish duo will be given a helping hand by Cornell du Preez, with the two Greigs, Laidlaw and Tonks, looking to pull the strings.

But Munster appear to have the edge here too, with Conor Murray having shaken off any ring rust at Kingsholm last week and Ian Keatley looking at home in the No 10 jersey at last.

The increase in numbers in the Ireland set-up is a reward for Munster's 10 wins in 11 games, while it also should give Jones, Keatley, Kilcoyne and Archer a lift this week.

With Wolfhounds places up for grabs next week, they'll be looking to impress one last time before going into camp.

They have one last job to do in red before the full focus becomes green, however, and that is putting Munster in as strong a position as possible in April.

The Reds are relying on Glasgow to upset Toulon today or Racing Metro to cause a shock in Clermont after their game -- a Zebre win over Toulouse is just beyond the bounds of possibility. None of them are likely to happen, but Munster have pulled stranger things out of the bag on the final weekend of pool games in the Heineken Cup.

"We're a professional rugby team and that's what has to be done," captain O'Mahony said. "We have enough guys in the squad who have been there before and we know we have to do a job, we can't influence anything else other than the 80 minutes we have on Sunday so we've got to get ourselves right for it.

"It is tough but you've got to put it to bed and worry about your own house."

If that's the message the skipper is relaying to his players then Munster fans need not worry. Losing at Murrayfield appears to have been the wake-up call they needed and they would be loath to make the same mistake again.

Close to full-strength and with impact throughout their bench, they should have more than enough to beat Edinburgh and then some.

Verdict: Munster

MUNSTER -- F Jones; K Earls, C Laulala, J Downey, J Murphy; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, S Archer; D Foley, P O'Connell; P O'Mahony (capt), T O'Donnell, J Coughlan. Reps: D Casey, J Cronin, BJ Botha, Donncha O'Callaghan, P Butler, D Williams, JJ Hanrahan, S Zebo.

EDINBURGH -- J Cuthbert; D Fife, N De Luca, B Atiga, T Brown; G Tonks, G Laidlaw (capt); A Dickinson, R Ford, W Nel; G Gilchrist, I Van Der Westhuizen; C Du Preez, R Grant, D Denton. Reps: A Lutui, L Blaauw, G Cross, O Atkins, T Leonardi, G Hart, C Bezuidenhout, J Dominguez.

REF -- W Barnes (RFU)

Munster v Edinburgh

Form guide: Munster WWWLW, Edinburgh LWWLW.

Betting: Munster 1/33, Edinburgh 10/1, Draw 40/1.

Handicap: Munster (-17) 10/11, Edinburgh (+17) 10/11, Draw (-17) 20/1.

KEY MAN

Ian Keatley (Munster)

Time to back up last week's match-winning display in Gloucester. Keatley has been a mixed bag through this season, but he showed at Kingsholm that he has the stuff to run a game. Against a physical Edinburgh side, he'll need to keep the ball moving and exploit any openings.

THREE THINGS MUNSTER MUST DO

Warm up the crowd

Nobody likes a lunchtime kick-off. Peter O'Mahony revealed that the players are forced to eat pasta, potatoes and chicken at 9.0am, while the fans are made to rush to the stadium and cannot enjoy the day as they would with an evening kick-off. It is up to the team to generate some momentum early on and get Thomond Park behind them.

Score four tries

The pool is secured and the difference between fifth and sixth is minimal. Players will talk about winning the game first, but, in reality, it is up to Munster to try and prize their way into the top four and earn a shot at a home quarter-final. Results might not go their way, but they must do everything in their power.

Dominate the tackle

Edinburgh are a big side who are fast improving and, with their combination of Scottish and South African forwards, they will look to get stuck in after contact and bully Munster. The hosts will be well able for it if they are on their game, but must start as they mean to go on.

 

 

MUNSTER V EDINBURGH,

LIVE, SKY SPORTS 2, TOMORROW 12.45

Irish Independent

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