Wednesday 13 December 2017

Munster will be first to admit they have room to improve

Hanrahan's last-gasp try, Murray and Ryan staying all add to festive cheer

Munster’s JJ Hanrahan goes over to score the crucial try against Pe rp ig na n in th e He in ek en Cu p at Stade Aimé Giral
Munster’s JJ Hanrahan goes over to score the crucial try against Pe rp ig na n in th e He in ek en Cu p at Stade Aimé Giral

Isn't it amazing how much things can change in the space of a couple of minutes. Going into the closing stages on Saturday evening it looked like Munster had done the job required of them in France.

Then Perpignan scored and we looked like we might be going out of the competition.

I was thrilled for JJ Hanrahan that he should come on and score the winner, with huge contributions from Denis Hurley and Tommy O'Donnell.

That brought Munster back into contention in the pool, with the prospect of a big showdown in January away to Gloucester at Kingsholm, another bearpit of a venue.

However, within 24 hours, the landscape had changed once again. Edinburgh's surprise win in Gloucester now puts Munster in a really good place.

STAYING

And to cap it all, Donnacha Ryan announces on Sunday that he is staying on with us for the next three years.

Coming hot on the heels of Conor Murray re-signing, that represents a seriously good week for Munster.

And yet, had Hanrahan not managed to score with that last-gasp effort, we would be looking at an entirely different scenario this week.

So much can turn on a moment. You might say a team is lucky to be able to get that sort of a score right at the death.

But that's why each individual trains so hard and then brings it all together in a team. It is for that moment, to give yourself every chance of delivering when it matters most.

Yes, you need the bounce of the ball, but some players and some teams increase the odds on that bounce going your way and Munster have done that time and again over the years.

I had the honour of being on the field for some of those memorable finishes. It is what builds the legacy and these boys have now created their own bit of legacy -- and they will want to build on it.

I think they will be the first to admit that they can improve, and that's a good thing. They will look back and say that the Perpignan try should have been closed down. They shouldn't have left themselves in the predicament they found themselves in.

But Perpignan are a good team, especially at home. The way they bounced from the concession of the penalty try after three good Munster scrums says a lot about them.

I thought Hurley and O'Donnell were superb in the build-up to the try, they really extended themselves to make the opening and, in that situation, it is someone like JJ you want coming through.

As I have said before, I have watched him develop from his time in Rockwell and he has the swagger -- you either have it or you don't -- and the way he left the full-back rooted to the spot said it all.

It was an appropriate way to make a mark after being at fault in Murrayfield, but he will have put that Edinburgh mistake long behind him and moved on. He will have learned from that and will use it as a positive, not a negative. I think we are going to see an awful lot more of JJ in the years ahead and I'm looking forward to it.

Gloucester's surprise loss to Edinburgh leaves Munster in a fantastic position to nail a home quarter-final.

It is an amazing competition. After the first pool match you would have said they will be lucky to qualify; two minutes from the end last Saturday, it looked like they were gone and now they look good for a home quarter-final. And it's not even Christmas! It is some competition, the way it swings one way and the other.

The number of away wins at the weekend, especially in back-to-back matches, was remarkable and no result was more surprising than Northampton defeating Leinster at the Aviva.

They had a point to prove and they certainly did that. In the process, they would have put a dint in Leinster's favourites tag for the competition.

But that sort of a result could be the making of Leinster. They will learn a lot from it.

Ulster did what was required of them in Treviso, but it's amazing, they are the only team to win four from four. Yet, in terms of reaching the quarter-finals, you would say Leinster and Munster are in better positions.

Leicester's late win in Montpellier was not the result Ulster needed and it looks increasingly likely that they will depend on a result at Welford Road to see them through. That will not be easily achieved either.

Connacht were badly hit by the flu and that was a pity as it did impact on any chance they had of beating Toulouse again. But they now need to recover quickly and start winning matches in the league and prove it wasn't a once-off.

Elsewhere, Clermont Auvergne and Toulon are going about their business quietly -- which we probably should be wary of -- while Racing Metro collapsed again and Harlequins could now become the first side to reach the quarter-finals having lost their opening two games.

There's a lot to look forward to in January.

Irish Independent

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