Tuesday 20 March 2018

Derby rivalry sure to stoke the fires

But injuries to O'Mahony and O'Callaghan are huge blow

Out-half Tyler Bleyendaal prepares to take a kick during the victory over Treviso. Photo: Sportsfile
Out-half Tyler Bleyendaal prepares to take a kick during the victory over Treviso. Photo: Sportsfile

David Wallace

Treviso were on a high going into that game with Munster last weekend, but it was very pleasing to see Munster go over there and dismiss them so easily. They put the game to bed early, and now they can focus on a big inter-pro derby against Connacht before the most important of all, the Guinness Pro12 play-offs.

The main disappointment coming out of Round 21 were the injuries that Munster picked up along the way. It's great to secure a home Pro12 semi-final, with one game to go, but at what cost?

Ronan O'Mahony's leg fracture has put him out for the rest of the season, and you can't help but feel sorry for the guy. He didn't feature against Saracens despite being top try-scorer in the Pro12 this season, and that says a lot about how much depth Munster have in their ranks at present.

But he's been talking recently about staking a claim for involvement in the Pro12 play-offs. He obviously wanted to make a big impression at the end of this season, and maybe get on a tour to Japan and USA with Ireland in the summer, but those plans have to be put on hold now after this latest injury.

Ronan O’Mahony was unfortunate to pick up a leg fracture in the match against Treviso. Photo: Sportsfile
Ronan O’Mahony was unfortunate to pick up a leg fracture in the match against Treviso. Photo: Sportsfile

It's such a pity for him, and Dave O'Callaghan's injury didn't look great either. When you hear a knee complaint it never sounds good, and hopefully he can recover in time to feature in the next few weeks.

But, saying all of that, Munster are giving guys chances, and you see what Alex Wootton did last weekend. He's a class act, and having not played a senior game since November, he slotted in seamlessly against the Italians.

Wootton was one of the stars of Munster's B&I Cup success against Jersey Reds, and the English-born winger made it two tries in six games for the senior side in Stadio Monigo. It will be interesting to see how he develops in the coming years.

Munster have such a brilliant back three, and inside of that it's great to see Francis Saili getting back on form. He has that X-factor and if he can show that over the next few games, Munster could have a match-winning player there.

MASSIVE Going into this weekend Connacht are on a low ebb, and it will be interesting to see how they respond after a poor performance against Scarlets ahead of some massive games for their future too.

They need to be playing Champions Cup rugby and they're on the brink, with a couple of play-offs to come, so you would think they will come to Limerick looking for a morale-boosting win over Munster.

They won down here for the first time in the professional era last year and they will look to replicate that form. But this is a completely different Munster side. The personnel might be similar to a point, but their psyche has changed.

The defence will be crucial again this weekend, against a Connacht team who obviously like to throw the ball around and attack the open space and wide-out channels.

Let's not forget they won the Pro12 last season, and beat Munster twice on the way to doing that. Connacht have the potential to do damage, and Jacques Nienaber's defence will have to be on form to repel them.

But I'm sure they will. And it should be a continuation of the form that saw them oust Treviso in Stadio Monigo. Munster cannot afford to lose this game because of the damage it would do to their confidence and momentum ahead of the semi-finals, and they'll go out there with the mindset that this is a season-defining inter-provincial derby.

There's nothing like an inter-pro to rally the troops and motivate a player to play beyond his limits. Munster have been at their best all throughout this campaign and they'll need that again at Thomond Park this weekend.

I expect a win, and then it's on to the final four in the Pro12 title race. It's hard to believe Munster are so close to glory. But there's still a long way to go. First things first, they need to take care of this game and see of Connacht by whatever means possible.

Connacht have plenty to have plenty of guys looking to make an Irish tour this summer, and with a point to prove. It's crucial Munster win the physical battle. If they do that it will provide them with the platform for success.

Irish Independent

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