Saturday 24 February 2018

Connacht loss piles pressure on Blues

Runaway win over Zebre will play big role tomorrow

Munster players go through their paces ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Leinster. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster players go through their paces ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Leinster. Photo: Sportsfile
Tommy O’Donnell speaks with lead physio Shea McAleer. Photo: Sportsfile

It's one of the biggest games of the season for Munster this weekend, but then again every match from here on in is a must-win game and they need to be at their best whether it's Leinster or Zebre they are playing.

They certainly were on top form last weekend, and it was the perfect time to put in a comprehensive display to breed confidence throughout the squad. It's good to have a big win prior to an inter-pro, and beating a side 47-0 in front of your home fans is a real boost.

Zebre were no slouches either, they had a number of Italian internationals returning to their squad for that game. With the likes of Kelly Haimona and Leonardo Sarto they had the potential to do damage, but Munster never gave them the opportunity.

Stats don't lie, and with 71 per cent possession, and 75 per cent territory for Munster, that match was only ever going to go one way. Nevertheless, to take the opportunity and score seven tries must be tremendously pleasing for Anthony Foley et al.

They didn't just perform well as a team, there were some brilliant individual displays and although Rory Scannell was man of the match I'm sure Johnny Holland wasn't far off.

I was very impressed with what I saw from the young Cork Con No 10. For a guy who only had a couple of cameo appearances this season, to come in and control a game like that, it was brilliant.

The out-half plays a key role in how the team attack, and when your side touches down on seven occasions, and you land five conversions, he was off the field for two of them, then you know you are doing something right.

He's still only 24, and was unlucky with injuries in the past, and I think he has a huge future with the province. He always had the potential to do big things but it will be interesting to see does he get the opportunity to build on that performance.

Munster have struggled a bit in that position on occasion this season, and it's great to have that competitiveness now. Tyler Bleyendaal has been injured and Ian Keatley has had ownership of the jersey for a long time. Having real competition will bring Keatley's game on too.


The fact that Johnny Holland is a home-grown talent is another positive. All of a sudden Munster are churning out the talent now. It's been a long time since we've seen so many good youngsters coming through the academy and it bodes well for the future.

When you can't compete financially with the big clubs in France and England, it's crucial that the grassroots are worked on. And Munster seem to be getting that spot on recently. Anthony Foley has really stressed the importance of it and hopefully it can come to fruition.

But for now those young guys will need to knuckle down and produce another massive display in the Aviva Stadium. It's not an easy place to go for the big inter-pro games, and the occasion can get to some players but these Munster players can rise above it.

Last season they shocked Leinster in the same fixture and it will be another shock if Munster win, according to the bookies, this time around. Nevertheless, I don't see it that way.

Leinster are coming in off a defeat in Galway and they will be reeling slightly from that. Munster have the players to light up the big occasion and it could be someone like Johnny Holland that makes the difference.

The international contingent came back to great effect last weekend and they will need to keep their performance levels up again this weekend.

It has all the makings of an old-fashioned Munster versus Leinster derby day, and there is so much at stake. But another win for Munster and they will be right on course for a play-off finish.

But they need to keep winning matches; it would be disappointing if they follow up that thumping of Zebre with a loss against their biggest rivals. And with the week off to come it would set them up well for a crack at the league leaders Connacht next time out.

There won't be much in it but I think Munster can do it. All of the pressure is on Leinster.

Irish Independent

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