Sunday 22 July 2018

Victor Costello: Victory over Munster could give us another crack at Connacht

Cian Healy at training in Belfield (SPORTSFILE)
Cian Healy at training in Belfield (SPORTSFILE)

Victor Costello

For years the frustration of playing Connacht was their ability to raise their game against Leinster and the anger and pride they would show often resulted in a very passionate opening 30 minutes.

If you were playing them away in the Sportsground this would more likely last longer and while it would be an insult to Connacht to suggest that even though they won the battle, Leinster will win the war but it's a mindset that Leinster will have to take on board in the final weeks of the Pro12.

Being the away team landing in the Sportsground, there is a sense of tribalism amongst the crowd but there will always be an arrogance about a Leinster team warming up as you know that deep down the home crowd can be turned and don't believe in their team the way they let on.

The wind howling from the Atlantic is well known for its disruption but somehow visiting teams never seem to acknowledge its strength and the home side uses it as a valuable asset when the coin toss decision time comes.

With the mental resolve being tested from the off this results in a fatigue factor and the decision-making process is hindered. Subsequently, Leinster's decision to go left off the final scrum cost them the game.

This Connacht team is like no other and while there will always be a battle off the pitch for support and resources, Pat Lam's squad have had a consistency in performance that builds the foundation for Cup and League victories so no matter what way this season turns out their resilience will stand to them over the next few years.

The trip back the N4 last weekend would have been subdued, an all-too-familiar feeling this season but nevertheless, while the mourning period subsides, the league table stays the same.

A victory at home tomorrow against Munster will be the tonic to stir the emotions again and ironically another chance at Connacht could be on the horizon too.

Munster and Leinster games are a privilege in this country and as a nation of Irish rugby supporters who watch the game, so too does the rest of Europe.

Leinster's victory last December in Limerick will serve no purpose come kick-off. They will still be focused on winning the Pro12 title and even though Munster are not the team they were, if you can beat them one weekend, the next few opposition teams never seem to matter.

Inter-pro derbies throw up the usual sub-plots of individual rivalries and of course both teams will want to expose each other's weaknesses using the knowledge each player has of the other.

CJ Stander will want to continue his fine run of form against his Leinster and Ireland counterparts in the back-row. The same can be said of Simon Zebo. Conor Murray will have opposition in either or both Luke McGrath and Eoin Reddan.

Nearly every position will have a point to prove against the opposition in a battle for places in the South African tour or to maintain a position in the Ireland XV.

Over the years these games have wavered between two extremes; sometimes-dogged affairs and low scoring to the opposite but the importance has never been diluted and tomorrow's clash is no different.

Leo Cullen in the post-match interview last weekend specifically asked for the crowd's backing this weekend as he tries to negate the 16th man from the south.

The Leinster crowd this season has worked hard for both club and country and their voices at the Aviva will lift Irish provincial rugby back to the levels where it should be.

Some of these games before have been knockout games and some of them league games but from the changing room there is no difference.

As Leinster hold all the recent victories, history will tell that a desperately hungry and focused Munster coming to Dublin will pay no regard to form or statistics.

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