Wednesday 13 December 2017

Denis Leamy: Heat is on – and that's just how Penney's men like it

No room for error as hopes hinge on doing double over Perpignan

Ian Keatley ties his bootlaces before squad training ahead of the match against Perpignan
Ian Keatley ties his bootlaces before squad training ahead of the match against Perpignan

Denis Leamy

You can't win the Heineken Cup in December, but you can get knocked out of it, and I'm sure that message will be driven home in the Munster camp this week.

It is a key part of the season and the loss to Edinburgh has meant that there is little wriggle room now. But, in a way, that has a bit of upswing as well because Munster thrive in that environment – it has always brought the best out of them.

These two matches are vital – after the loss in Edinburgh there is no room for error and it is hard to see how Munster can get out of the pool if they don't win both of them. I think they will be in big trouble if they don't win the two of them.

The first thing, of course, is to win on Sunday. Winning your home matches is non-negotiable and that has always been the way.

But I think Munster will win on Sunday. They are going into this on the back of some very good league form. It wasn't easy heading over to Wales on successive weekends, but they came away with wins at Cardiff and the Dragons.

That was always going to be tough, and so it transpired, but it was great the way Munster came good when it mattered. That will have lifted spirits and I'm sure they flew home on Friday night buzzing and dying to get moving this week.


Add in the other lads coming back from Ireland and a few more due back from injury and there are a lot of positives coming out of the camp, which is just what you need going into these crucial games.

It was a bad blow for the team, though, when it emerged that Mike Sherry had suffered and ACL and a huge blow to Mike himself, who has emerged as a quality hooker.

Damien Varley will do a great job and a big opportunity has now opened up for Duncan Casey and Niall Scannell. They will now get plenty of opportunities in the coming weeks and months to stake their claim.

As always, one fella's injury is another person's opportunity.

Perpignan will not be easily beaten and going over to Stade Aime Giral will present its own challenges next week – that's why this Sunday has to go very well.

I made my European debut against them and I found it very intimidating over there. The crowd are on top of the players and every decision by the referee is hotly disputed.

But teams face that challenge coming to Thomond and a full house in full voice on Sunday would be a big lift.

The early kick-off presents its own challenges. Players will have been preparing for it all week, getting up earlier and getting in tune. They will eat more the day before the game to get the fuel in as facing into a heap of food around half nine on a Sunday morning can be difficult.

Munster have always done well in these early kick-offs. A lot of work is put into preparing for them, and I remember us winning against Clermont and Scarlets in such games.

All matches against Perpignan have been tough. I recall a game a few years ago in Thomond when, just as we thought we had put them away, they came and got a score late in the game and went in front. Thankfully, we managed to get downfield and Rog landed a penalty to win it. But it was close.

The pressure is always on the home team in these games and Perpignan will try to turn that in their favour. Winning a few small battles here and there can put the pressure on the home team.

In saying that, Munster are experienced to deal with things like that and recover from setbacks.

Winning on Sunday will be the primary task; going for a bonus point can then come into the equation.

This is a key time of the year for all teams – the vital thing over the next six weeks is to stay in contention in both competitions and then go for it next April and May.

You just have to win games like next Sunday if you want to entertain those sort of notions. It's as simple as that and everyone in Munster knows it.

The pressure is on – but would you want it any other way!

Irish Independent

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