Thursday 18 January 2018

Munster can click into gear away from Stade Mayol cauldron

Munster's Ian Keatley takes some pictures on a press photographer's camera during training at UL
Munster's Ian Keatley takes some pictures on a press photographer's camera during training at UL

Denis Leamy

There must be a growing feeling among the Munster players and management that now is their time. They have been growing steadily for the past few seasons and have gained a lot of experience.

The manner of the win over Toulouse will have further boosted their confidence, although nobody is in any doubt about the task they face going to Marseille to take on Toulon.

It is mammoth because they are such a powerful side and can call on another seven or eight to come off the bench who are just as strong.

They are also a side who seem to have developed a very proud identity. They might have struggled with that a few years ago, but the likes of Jonny Wilkinson and Bakkies Botha have helped oversee a huge change in mindset and they showed that on Sunday against Leinster.

Leinster did well to stay with them until half-time and I had hoped that they would then hit the front, but Toulon just took over and really wrapped it up. I don't think anyone is in any doubt about the task facing Munster.

FIGHTING

But I'd still give Munster a fighting chance. The fact that the game is in Marseille rather than Stade Mayol is a help. I know more Toulon supporters will be accommodated in Marseille, but that stadium of theirs in Toulon is something else.

It would not be unlike Munster going from Thomond Park to the Aviva Stadium. Yes, there would be more home supporters, but you would lose that Thomond Park factor.

I'm also sure that another huge Munster contingent will make the trip. It will be another huge Heineken Cup weekend and people will organise their trips and make a great occasion out of it.

It will be no harm here that there are a lot of similarities with last year when Munster went to Montpellier to play Clermont Auvergne and that experience will help as well.

The loss of Peter O'Mahony is a huge setback for a game like this and there is no point in beating around the bush on it. He is an international-quality player, he was having a great season and he is the team captain.

At least it is not something which has flared up in the week of the game – there is time to plan around it.

It is also a huge disappointment for Peter himself. It's never easy getting injured but coming up to a Heineken Cup semi-final and all the other big games at the end of the season is hard to deal with.

He will also miss the Irish tour to Argentina and faces weeks of rehab during the summer months. It is a tough blow for the lad himself and I just wish him the best of luck.

I thought the approach they took into the Toulouse game was superb. They had three brilliant periods in the match, the start of each half and the finish.

They looked so comfortable in those periods and I thought Toulouse did not handle the Thomond Park experience at all well. For such a superpower of the last two decades they looked a shadow of themselves at times.

But Munster have been progressing nice and steadily in the past few years. Guys such as Paul O'Connell, BJ Botha, Casey Laulala and Donncha O'Callaghan have vast experience and they have helped so many come through.

The majority still have only three or four years' Heineken Cup experience, but with a good back-room team, they probably do feel that now is their time.

There was a lot of doom and gloom when Rob Penney took charge, but he has led them to a stage where now there are many positives.

Their attitude at the outset against Toulouse was excellent and they got on top and never allowed the French get a real look-in.

I think Munster will be disappointed to concede two tries, because they were in control of that game, but they will learn from that and become stronger.

Looking from the stands, I thought Toulouse had one of the biggest teams, but Munster won quite easily which you rarely get to do in the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup.

Look at the other quarter-finals, they all went down to the wire, but Munster looked very comfortable in what they were doing.

It sets up another huge Heineken Cup day out for Munster and I have no doubt they will meet that huge challenge in typical fashion in a few weeks.

This is a Munster team which is improving all the time and it is great that they are in contention with the race down to the last four.

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