Sunday 22 September 2019

David Wallace: Winning with a bonus point at home is key for Munster

Reds have the fire-power to get off to a good start against Italian minnows

Conor Murray warms up during training in Limerick
Conor Murray warms up during training in Limerick
Keith Earls using a foam roller during training

David Wallace

It was a bit of a hectic finish in Murrayfield, but Munster got there in the end and that was the important thing. Tomorrow will be an entirely different occasion, and presumably a much more convincing win.

But it was important to come into Europe on the back of another victory, and Munster look strong with two crunch Champions Cup ties on the horizon. Six wins from seven is a near-perfect return from their opening block in the Pro12 and I'm sure Anthony Foley will be happy with that.

To have the internationals back is another major plus, and with Conor Murray it adds another dynamic to the team. He's a French style scrum-half, one of those that dictates what's going on around him.

Conor takes so much pressure off the out-half with his extraordinary kicking talents, and his decision-making is second to none. He's more like an American Football quarter-back than anything else.

But when you can bring him in, and have him backed up by an in-form Tomas O'Leary it bodes well for a tricky fixture list, where players can't be called on every day.

Simon Zebo was back for the win over Ulster, but to be able to call on Keith Earls is great too. You could see his threat every time he got near the ball against Edinburgh, and he wasn't far from having a try in his first game back.

It's always important how you respond when something freak, like an intercept pass takes place, especially when you are so high up in the opposition half, but I thought Munster were fantastic.

Their scramble defence was top notch, they did really well to get back on defend on their try-line for so long. Then CJ Stander's block showed the workrate they have in the squad, and it typified him as a player too.

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The one thing that was a little worrying was the scrummaging aspect, but I'm sure Munster have agonised over that all week. They will be prepared for the major strength of the Italians.

But from that negative comes a positive, and the performance of Mario Sagario was great to see. He's really experienced with Uruguay but still was a bit of an unknown quantity when he came to Munster.

But we all know he can scrummage, he steadied things in there against the Scots. And if Treviso look to attack Munster in the set-piece, it will be vital to have someone of like him or BJ Botha, to ensure Munster have a platform to build on.

But I think Munster will win this quite comprehensively this weekend, and hopefully it will be a full Thomond Park to get that real Champions Cup feel.

They played Treviso first up in the Pro12, and it wasn't the complete performance by any means. But they got the job done, and that won't be enough tomorrow.

It's great to have an Italian team in your Champions Cup pool, but it does place a massive onus on the team to ensure they win, and get the bonus point too - Stade Francais will get a bonus point against Treviso, as will Leicester.

So Munster need to set their stall out early and if they can get all five points in their first game, straight away it places all of the pressure back on the other two big sides in the pool.

If Munster do struggle against Treviso, then it could come back to haunt them later in the pool phase. Connacht beat the Italians last weekend, but they couldn't get the fourth try because they didn't get one in the first-half, Munster must strike early to lay down a marker at the Thomond Park.

And they will, when it comes to Champions Cup time, the atmosphere around the camp changes completely. Everyone is that bit more clued in, the hits are harder in training, everyone is really fighting for their place in the starting 15, and the senses are heightened.

Then when they get their chance on the pitch, they want to make an impression so they don't miss out next time around, but not only that.

These players know about Munster's tradition, they suffered the disappointment of being knocked out of the pool stages last year from a really difficult pool, and they don't want to experience that again.

Munster will hit the ground running in Limerick tomorrow, and then it's all systems go for a crunch game in Paris next time out.

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