Tuesday 12 December 2017

Buoyant Reds have nothing to fear in bear pit

Keith Earls
Keith Earls

Denis Leamy

Munster are in a good place at the moment and that is a great frame of mind to be in heading to France for a Heineken Cup match.

It has been a good month or so for Munster, with good wins and bonus points picked up in the league, and it was a case of job done at Thomond Park last Sunday.

Five points in the bag and the game wrapped up early. You couldn't ask for much more from Munster.

And yet they will be the first to say there is room for improvement -- certainly the line-out needs to be tidied up -- but all of that points to being in a good position.

The Edinburgh loss is being pushed further to the back of the mind with each victory, and a win in Perpignan tomorrow will leave Munster on target for a winner-takes-all encounter in Gloucester next month.

And, let's face it, that's probably as much as Munster could have hoped for once they slipped up in Edinburgh. It was going to be a matter of winning every game from there.

And that's why there will be no mention of Gloucester this week in the camp -- all the focus will be on Perpignan. And with good reason.

I know players are always describing opposition venues as 'a difficult place to go' but Stade Aime Giral is exactly that.

Perpignan have only a slim chance of qualifying but that won't matter. They never need much motivation to get them going at home and neither do their supporters. It is a very intimidating place -- the crowd is in on top of you, they are constantly on the referee's back and on the opposition. It is a bear pit.


I made my Heineken Cup debut there and found it a tough spot. We went back there four years ago, we weren't fancied and they were French champions. There was a fear we would get well beaten, but we turned them over.

By then I had been to a few more bear pits and, while it was still an intimidating place, you knew how to handle it better. And that's the thing about this Munster team. While most will be going there for the first time, a few have been there and dealt with it. You can't beat that experience.

I would say Munster will look to do what we did there four years ago and try to get an early score on the board and take the crowd out of it as soon as possible.

Munster can't afford to let Perpignan get a lead on them, as the crowd becomes more of a factor and suddenly it can be a long way back.

They need to go in there disciplined, continue what they did in Thomond Park, get the win, and January will look after itself.

Munster will take nothing for granted but they should have nothing to fear. They were much the better team last Sunday, their scrum was excellent and they went for the kill early. Keith Earls was superb and great to see him back to this form.

All in all, you would hope Munster will keep up the form they have shown in recent weeks and that should be enough to get the win. They just need to take control from the outset and they should be fine.

It was a great weekend for the Irish teams and, while Connacht's win in Toulouse was the undoubted stand-out result, Leinster were superb in Northampton.

Brian O'Driscoll looks as hungry as ever and Luke Fitzgerald was really sharp scoring his three tries. Northampton are a good side, so for Leinster to give them a hiding like that in their own backyard was some statement. I would expect them to follow it up this weekend.

The same should apply to Ulster in Italy. They did what was required of them in thrashing Treviso at Ravenhill and, while they will find it a bit tougher over there, they are also in good form and should remain on course for a key clash with Leicester in January.

Most of the other results followed form, with the exception of Racing Metro's collapse against Harlequins.

That was some setback for Racing, a 32-8 loss at 'home', even if the match was moved a few hundred miles away to Nantes.

Quins are now back in the hunt, and there will probably be more soul-searching for Racing this weekend after the game in The Stoop.

Although I'm sure Rog and Johnny Sexton will have a say in making sure that doesn't happen but the wind is with Conor O'Shea's men.

You just can't beat good form. Munster are in a rich vein at the moment and hopefully that will bear fruit tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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