Sunday 18 August 2019

Expect a home win, but this Benetton side can be lethal if they're given a chance

Tadhg Beirne. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tadhg Beirne. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

David Wallace

Munster won seven of their last eight Guinness PRO14 games, but it wasn't enough as Glasgow won eight straight to finish top of Conference A. Still, a home quarter-final against Benetton is just reward for Munster's efforts all season and it sets up the chance of facing Leinster in the semi-final.

It will be very interesting against Benetton tomorrow. Historically, this is a game Munster would be expected to win easily, but of late the Italians are a bit more of a challenge.

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Looking at the tables, Benetton have won the exact same number of games as last year, with 11 victories to their name. But Conference B is not as competitive as it was 12 months ago, which has given them the chance to make the play-offs and they've taken it.

After a tough opening, last weekend turned into a good performance from Munster against Connacht. It wasn't perfect - Andrew Conway's error stands out - but Munster edged the set piece battle and never looked like losing after Tadhg Beirne scored. His sidestep for the try was incredible.

I've been in that situation a few times and could never convert, so it was most impressive from him. He was a real force at the breakdown too, but it is his work-rate that stands out. He is a top quality player.

Of all the players to make that mistake, Conway is the most diligent of them all.

You could see his mental toughness straight away, he shrugged it off and set up the try a few minutes later for Mike Haley.

Stephen Fitzgerald did really well to get back - he had a lot of ground to cover - but it was a massive error from Conway. I'm positive we'll never see it again from him and thankfully it didn't happen in a knock-out game and cost them the match.

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The reports on Conor Murray's injury are very positive, but it didn't look good at the time.

It looked an innocuous enough incident, but Conor's reaction suggested it could be a bit of a worry for the team. Thankfully it was just some stiffness and he was back training on Monday along with Joey Carbery and Keith Earls.

Craig Casey came on last weekend for his debut, and while he didn't get much of a chance, he still got stuck in.


Neil Cronin did very well too and must have been shattered after his 75 minutes, while Alby Mathewson has also shown plenty of class. Having Conor in there, though, is a real boost.

At this late stage of the season it is extra tough for anyone to force their way into the team, but some of the replacements made a big impact last weekend.

I was really impressed with Sammy Arnold's cameo again. He is making good breaks, is very energetic and he has given the management a big decision to make.

Rhys Marshall was good again, while starters Dan Goggin, Calvin Nash and Chris Cloete are also in good form.

As always, the breakdown needs to be worked on but overall I was very impressed with Munster last weekend. They know what they want to achieve in the last few weeks of the season.

The last time the sides met Benetton raced into a 10-0 lead and eventually scored 28 points.

Munster will need to be a bit tighter in defence this time around. Teams usually do their analysis a week in advance of a game, but last week they didn't know who they were going to play, so having that game so fresh in their minds will have been a great help.

I think the game against Saracens will help Munster too. Munster were forced to operate at a higher level than they have in the last few years, so that should ensure they're battle-hardened for the run-in.

Everyone involved will experience a carryover from that game, detail will be sharper and hopefully it will pay dividends.

Considering the PRO14 semi-final is the week after the Champions Cup final, tomorrow's winners will have a week off, while Leinster have the significant challenge of a European final with Saracens to work through.

It's a very good chance for whoever comes through tomorrow's game to catch them out.

In the other semi-final, Glasgow face Ulster or Connacht, so Warriors would follow their home semi-final with a cross-town final at Celtic Park.

It's teed up for them, but I think the Irish provinces could have something to say about it yet.

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