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Reds aim to win but must avoid injuries

Huge positives to take from tour to South Africa as Euro prep begins

Dan Goggin on the charge. Photo: Sportsfile
Dan Goggin on the charge. Photo: Sportsfile
CJ Stander being tackled by Tienie Burger of Southern Kings. Photo: Sportsfile

David Wallace

It looks as if the Munster squad are enjoying their trip to South Africa and a second win of the tour, with the boost that living in each other's pockets for two weeks brings, will have them in a great place for the challenges that await.

As well as the team morale aspect of the two games in South Africa, a side effect of training in the sun and playing at altitude will be the significant edge it brings to the squad's fitness. What a lift that will be in the preparations for Racing 92 in the Champions Cup.

But this was not a training camp: Munster have gone there with the aim of winning both games, and if they put in another performance like they did against the Southern Kings I expect them to come home with another win and home advantage secured for their upcoming quarter-final.

They got off to a slow start against the Kings last weekend but coming out the right side of the result will give them huge confidence. A lot of teams have gone to South Africa and struggled, but make no mistake, this is a huge step up against Cheetahs. Playing at altitude on the Highveld against this strong team would be a real challenge. 

With a good few changes to the team last weekend, it was good to see that they performed well and took on the leadership roles required. The squad had been broken up during the Six Nations and many of the key leaders were gone for the bones of two months. Having the time to put that structure back on the game is priceless.

Looking at some of the videos and photos from George brought back memories of my own trips to the country, but for CJ to go back home with Munster must have been a real buzz.

It's been a great couple of years for him; his journey in Munster and Ireland has been absolutely fantastic and no doubt he was happy to leave his mark on the game too.

This weekend will be a very different challenge though. The thin air at altitude is really tough to play in, especially when you get there first. My abiding memory of it is when we arrived in 2009 with the Lions and we went for a short session to run the journey out of our legs.

Advantage

We had a bit of a warm-up, just a light passing drill, but most guys had their hands on their knees in the middle of it. You just feel like you are after running three lengths of the field but you've only done 15 or 20 metres.

Home advantage is always valuable, but the Cheetahs lads will be a lot more used to playing in those conditions and that'll make it really challenging for Munster.

It is a really tough fixture and after they beat Cardiff by two points, Cheetahs are now only six points behind Munster. A lot rests on this game and Munster cannot afford to be left pointless from it.

When you look at the respective defensive records, it tells a real tale though. Munster have only conceded 37 tries, while Cheetahs have let in 65, which is a massive difference. You'd expect they'll play a more open brand of rugby, and with that in mind this could be an ideal test with Racing to come next week.

Munster's defensive record - especially in the Champions Cup - has been phenomenal, but it will be a different type of test this weekend.

Cheetahs have bags of talent going forward and Munster will have to perform in defence against this different style.

For sure they will be put to the pin of their collar at times in the Champions Cup game so it will be no harm for them to be tested severely in this game. With a few changes expected, the management will be keeping an eye to see who's in peak form.

But most of all, even more important that the result, is a clean bill of health. It is good to hear that James Cronin's shoulder injury is not as serious as first feared, but the last thing Johann van Graan needs is for one of his key players to pick up a knock.

But even so, we've seen some excellent performances in adversity in recent seasons as the likes Jack O'Donoghue, Rory Scannell and Alex Wootton have really impressed when they've gotten their chances. Whoever is available after this trip will be chomping at the bit to be involved in the run-in.

Irish Independent

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