Tuesday 12 December 2017

Gloucester win our most complete performance

Munster's Donncha O'Callaghan chats with James Downey at training in Limerick
Munster's Donncha O'Callaghan chats with James Downey at training in Limerick

Rob Penney

At the beginning of this season, reaching the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup was one of our primary goals. So to clinch our place in the knock-out stages last weekend was immensely satisfying.

No matter what happens this weekend, we are secure of our spot in the play-offs. That's great for the team, that's great for the organisation and for all of our supporters, both those at home and those that made their way over to Gloucester to cheer us on.

It was absolutely amazing to see the support we had last weekend. We are so appreciative to have such passionate people that love this team. They are unique in world rugby, it's very special for the team to have this amazing group of supporters turning up wherever we play, they make a massive impact on our performance.

Thank you all.

All things considered, we thought the lads did a terrific job at Kingsholm. Our tenaciousness, our ability to remain calm under pressure, our defence, our decision making and effectiveness around the breakdown, and our game management were terrific. These were areas we focused on before the game and we made a tremendous amount of improvement on those facets over the 80 minutes.

There was very little that disappointed us from the game. It was probably one of our most complete performances all year -- but realistically the hard work begins now and we are hoping to start again with another win this Sunday against Edinburgh.

Edinburgh were a good side when we lost to them the last time and they are better than that now. Under Alan Solomons they have obviously got a structure in place that they believe in, they have got a team that are working hard for each other and they are a formidable opposition now.

It must be remembered they have beaten Leinster, they have beaten Gloucester, they have beaten Perpignan and they should have beaten Glasgow.

They deserve to be very well respected in the Heineken Cup and Pro12. They are a strong group; they have quality players right through the key areas of their team. Nos 2, 8, 9, 10 and 15 are the guys that drive them around the field and they have maturity and talent in those key positions. It shouldn't be underestimated how good they are.

Our first priority is to win on Sunday, but it would be terrific for everybody if we could achieve a home quarter-final. The boys are really proud of their record in the Heineken Cup at Thomond Park and no matter who comes here we want to make sure they have to work hard if they want to topple us.

So, we have just got to focus on our own performance and ensure that we prepare well. This could be our final home game in the Heineken Cup competition this year, so we aim to perform to the best of our ability and ensure we do the right thing by our supporters. If, in the end, we gain a result that gives us a quarter-final at home, then that's a bonus.

The group will have a week off after the Edinburgh game, but very quickly our focus will turn back to the Pro12. On our return, we face four games in a row -- Cardiff at Thomond, then Zebre in Musgrave, which is followed by Ospreys and Scarlets away -- two really difficult Welsh sides with a short turnaround to deal with.

Zebre will be our last game in Cork this season, so we will be keen to pick the win up there. It is always good to play in front of the locals, but it will be particularly special to say goodbye to the old Musgrave Park ahead of its redevelopment.

Elsewhere, there has been plenty of focus on this week's Irish squad announcement and for the guys that have made the squad it is fantastic. There are a couple of names that have been brought back, and there are a couple of guys that have missed out too. But the key thing for anyone hoping to play international rugby is to force the selectors' hands by playing well and performing for Munster.

I was delighted to see Simon Zebo make his comeback last week against Gloucester and it will be great to see him playing regularly again. He's had three months off and the back three positions are very competitive in Ireland at the moment. No one is going to walk into those positions, so Simon has to bide his time, perform for us and when the opportunity comes again, he'll be ready.

Congratulations to the B&I Cup team last week too. They performed very well and, because of that, they had a very good win. There are a number of those lads who will serve Munster very well into the future, which is a great place for the organisation to be in going forward.

They have another challenge this week that will determine whether they progress through to the play-offs.

The best of luck to all.

Irish Independent

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