Saturday 21 April 2018

Jerry Flannery: Comparison with 2014 Toulouse tie irrelevant

On his return to Thomond Park, Ronan O’Gara won’t have been happy with another embarrassing Racing loss to Munster. SPORTSFILE
On his return to Thomond Park, Ronan O’Gara won’t have been happy with another embarrassing Racing loss to Munster. SPORTSFILE

Jerry Flannery

Last weekend didn't run as smoothly as we would have hoped, but to get ourselves into a home quarter-final for the first time in three years is a marvellous achievement and I'm delighted for all of the lads - the Six Nations squad reflected their endeavours in recent months.

It is strange, but the fact that we played Racing 92 two weeks ago meant that it was never going to be as easy a game again. The reigning Top 14 champions were never going to be caught on the hop twice in this competition.

And in fairness Ronan O'Gara had eluded to it after the game at Stade Yves-du-Manoir. They knew it was going to be embarrassing for them if they performed at the same levels as when we beat them 32-7 in their own backyard. It was a much sterner challenge for us this time and they probably had a much stronger team out on the day too.

To be fair, our guys were so accurate in training all week long, and even in the warm-up I felt we had a big performance in us. But it showed how much Racing 92 were actually up for that game with the way everything transpired throughout the 80 minutes. At times we let them into the game, and we didn't dictate the pace of it when it was definitely under our control.

The scrum was okay, but it was a little messy. There were a couple of scrums that were pre-engaged to start with, which is illegal by the laws of the game.

We showed dominance in a good few of the early ones when we decided to go for them rather than kick to touch. As usual, John Ryan scrummaged really well, but as the game went on the opposition were much more competitive in that area.

Bearing

But now we have qualified and next up in this competition it will be Toulouse in a Champions Cup quarter-final at Thomond Park. And I don't think you can really look back on the game from 2014 and believe it will have any sort of bearing on what happens when the sides meet again.

You can't go back that far and compare any team to the one that will line out against us in the final eight. Look at us, for example. If you compared us now to where we were last year, I don't think anyone would have thought we could go through as second seeds in the top tier of European competition. But it is what it is, now we have got Toulouse and we will start preparing for them in the next few weeks when we get back into it.

Momentum will be big for us going into the quarter-finals, but hopefully we will have guys up and involved in the match-day 23s with Ireland during the Six Nations, and not being released back to us, which will give us an opportunity to give a chance to the other guys who have not been involved as much with us this season.

It would be very hypocritical for me to keep praising the wider squad and then be nervous when our internationals aren't available to us. I am really excited about seeing the lads who have been outside the match-day 23, and seeing them getting game-time over the next five or six weeks in the Pro12.

In terms of the Ireland set-up, I'm thrilled for all of the Munster lads that got called up to be involved. It is a reflection on the wider group that we have so many players up in Irish camp over the next few weeks.

With the three new lads who have been called up, I think it's fair to say Rory Scannell has probably been the most consistent performer across our entire squad over the last two years.

There is going to be an awful lot of competition in the Irish midfield, in the Six Nations and beyond, but Rory Scannell more than deserves his place up there and he has shown that if an opportunity arises he is more than capable of taking it and making an impression.

Equally, his brother Niall Scannell has been outstanding for us at hooker all season, not just in his minutes on the pitch, but in the way he conducts himself off the field with his leadership too. He has made the No 2 jersey his own for the vast majority of the season, and he has shown how good he can be, taking advantage of the opportunity that he got.

I am really looking forward to seeing how he goes up there and if he gets the nod and makes it into a match-day 23, I would be very confident in him and what he can do in a green jersey.

Andrew Conway has been in the environment before and his consistency and recent form have deservedly got him back up there. Hopefully all three can go on to the next level now and that in turn will be great for the rest of the Munster squad too.

Irish Independent

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