Saturday 18 November 2017

Bonus-point win could be vital

Ultra competitive league will go to wire as interpros set to be critical

David Johnston performed well off the bench for Munster. Photo: Sportsfile
David Johnston performed well off the bench for Munster. Photo: Sportsfile

David Wallace

Munster needed a big performance against Dragons and that bonus-point victory could be crucial when it comes to the final standings.

There's no doubt that this is the most competitive Pro12 ever and although Connacht and Leinster seem to be having their own battle at the top, the other two play-off places look up for grabs.

But teams can't get complacent, and as this season reaches the business end, with only Connacht and Dragons thinking about European rugby, every other team has the sole focus of the Pro12.

Missing out on the play-offs could see you slip out of the race for Champions Cup qualification too because at least one team must qualify from each nation and they have to be mindful of that.

But Munster needed that win last weekend, they had lost their previous three at home in the Pro12 and another defeat would have been a huge dent in their chances.

The bonus point was exactly that, a bonus, but every point counts at this stage of the year and Anthony Foley would have been delighted to see his players push for the fourth try late on.

David Johnston was great when he came on, obviously James Cronin was brilliant too, and he got the try, but in the lead up Johnston had several involvements. And not to forget Dave Kilcoyne who bagged another two tries.

With the week off now, Munster will be primed for a tilt at Cardiff next weekend and another win there will put pressure on the likes of Ulster.

Ulster will likely be the biggest challengers to Munster's hopes of reaching the play-offs this term. The interpros are going to take on a whole new level of importance this time around, and it's amazing to think that even though Munster beat Ulster twice already this season, they could finish behind them in the standings.

But first off Munster need to get the win at Cardiff next weekend, and the Blues have been really good at home this year, so it won't be easy.

Another win would give Munster some big momentum and after a very difficult season, they will be back in contention for the play-offs.

On the international front, Ireland are back in action tomorrow and they need a win against Italy after a difficult start to their Six Nations campaign in 2016.

But it won't be as easy as some people may think in the Aviva, the Italians have really impressed this term and I think their general attack play has been up there with England in terms of their exciting, expansive style.

Ireland gave such a massive effort, especially in the first-half against England, with their defensive line, and if they can replicate that this weekend they should do just fine.

But there needs to be more going forward and the newer faces need to offer something different. This is their opportunity to stake a claim for their place in the team and hopefully that will be a massive step forward for Ireland into the future.

There's no doubt that there is a sense of transition about the current crop and if this Six Nations can unearth one or two more talented youngsters it will be looked at in a different light.

Ireland are the reigning two-time champions and it's never nice to go out with a whimper. So it's important that they get the wins against Italy and Scotland in the final two games. But there needs to be an evident long-term plan in place too.

Ultan Dillane, Stuart McCloskey and Josh van der Flier were the big performers on that occasion. It will be interesting to see who stands out in the last two games.

It's amazing to think the difference a year makes, Ireland were challenging for the title when they faced Scotland last year.

It won't be the same this time around but it's a good sign to be blooding new talent so early in the next World Cup cycle.

Irish Independent

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