David Wallace: 'What better way to cast off disappointments than with a win over Leinster'
It has been a tough week or so for Munster Rugby. The narrow win over Benetton in the PRO14 quarter-final was earned in an unconvincing performance, and was quickly followed by the announcement that coaches Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones will leave the province at the end of the season. But what better way to cast off those disappointments than with a win over Leinster in the league semi-final?
I'm sure there is a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes in an effort to try and replace two top quality coaches, and it must be a tough management team to be in at the moment.
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But with so much still to play for, I'm positive that they will be as dedicated as they always have been in an attempt to get Munster over the line against their arch rivals.
What's happening in the coaches' room is not critical though, as the important pieces of this jigsaw will be on the field tomorrow. If anything, the announcement could have given the players something extra to play for. This could possibly be the last game that Felix and Jerry will be involved in with Munster and after more than 20 years of service between them, they deserve a massive performance.
But that will have to be delivered against a top quality side. Seven days on from a massively physical battle with Saracens, Leinster will have to pick themselves up and be ready for an intense inter-pro.
With the game taking place at the RDS, Leinster have a massive advantage, one that was earned because of their outstanding form all season. This time last season Munster played really well but still lost by a point there. Over the years it has not been a happy hunting ground for many teams at all and with the majority of Dublin games between Munster and Leinster now taking place at the Aviva Stadium, the last time Munster won there was back in 2008.
That game ended in an 18-0 victory for us and it was one day that everything went our way up there. Interestingly, in that game 11 years ago, a youthful Keith Earls played full-back for Munster and even then he was bursting with talent. Having him back fit and available is a huge boost for Munster's chances tomorrow.
Flashing back 11 years again, the young, fresh-faced duo of Sean O'Brien and Johnny Sexton were included for Leinster, while opposition coaches Flannery, Leo Cullen and Felipe Contepomi were also involved. It's a while since Munster won up there, but the memory remains in a few minds still, although the 30-0 defeat that followed the season after at the RDS cannot be forgotten, unfortunately.
No doubt the Munster players were all tuned in to see how Leinster got on against Saracens and this week it all depends if the Leinster players can shake off the disappointment of that loss. Having an immediate chance to get back into the action can be good, but it was probably Tuesday or Wednesday by the time their aches and pains from that game began to wane.
With that in mind, Munster should put massive focus on their start to the game. If Leinster feel any hangover from the loss it will come in the early stages, and that's when the Munster pack need to demoralise them, drag them into battle after battle and test their hunger for the action. Likewise out wide, the Munster backs must be ruthless and take every chance that comes their way.
Having a former Leinster player, Joey Carbery, back fit is another lift for the province and hopefully he can get back up to speed straight away, having just played 30 minutes of rugby since the Six Nations game in Scotland.
I have been particularly encouraged by Munster's form against Leinster in the last three or four meetings. The win at Christmas, the good performance at the Aviva in October and last year's semi-final were all dominated by Munster at certain periods, so it clear to the players that there is nothing to fear.
The extra week of preparation is also a factor in this game. After the Benetton game and the management announcement, the players needed a few days off and at this stage it's old news for them. Professional sports teams don't dwell too long on disappointments and all week their focus will have been solely on how to beat Leinster.
If they have been able to turn those frustrations into a positive within the squad, Munster have a great chance of making it to the final.