Monday 22 January 2018

Reds must pick on-fire JJ ahead of struggling Keatley

James Cronin
James Cronin

Denis Leamy

It would be unforgivable now if Munster were to blow it and not qualify for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup. As usual, it would seem, Munster have done it the hard way.

That loss in Edinburgh on the opening day left no room for error; it seemed every game had to be won from there and with trips to Perpignan and Gloucester on the agenda, it looked as though they might miss out.

After all, Munster only managed to get in by the skin of their teeth last season having lost the opening match away to Racing Metro, and then all seemed lost when they went down away to Sarries.

But here we are, two games still left in the pool and it will now be a major shock if Munster don't make it through.

It all swung on that late win in Perpignan and then Edinburgh did Munster a big favour by defeating Gloucester the following day. A lot went in Munster's favour that weekend. Imagine if Perpignan had held on for that late win and Gloucester, as expected, had beaten Edinburgh?

There would be a totally different dynamic heading to Kingsholm tomorrow.

But Munster will not find it difficult to find motivation. There is a notion that despite topping the Rabo and their pool in the Heineken Cup, they still have not got anywhere near hitting top form.

Losing out now will add its own pressure, but the lads will be putting a lot of pressure on themselves. They will feel there is a lot more in the tank than they have shown and they will be very anxious to nail down a home quarter-final.

Gloucester is often mentioned in the same breath as Munster. The two have a lot in common: intimidating and hostile home grounds, really passionate supporters and a real hard graft on the pitch.

We had some great battles over the years and we always knew we faced a big test, whether it was in Thomond or over there.

I played there in 2008 in the quarter-final. At that time Kingsholm was one of the hotbeds of English rugby. There is a real passionate group of supporters there; the real vocal ones are in 'the Shed'. The volume was always huge.

We were also over there a decade ago. Gloucester were leading the Premiership that year. In 2008 they were top as well, or there or thereabouts. But I'm not sure they have that quality at the moment. They are not as formidable as when we went there.


They are very, very passionate and they really embrace Munster coming there. In a small way, they admire Munster and the Munster values. They will do everything in their capacity to beat Munster.

They are having a poor season, with eight defeats from their 12 league games, and that loss at home to Edinburgh leaving them with only an outside chance of qualifying in the Heineken Cup.

They are dangerous because they have nothing to lose and everything to play for, but I really think Munster should be well able for anything thrown at them.

Munster will feel they will need to win in Gloucester. They did it in Perpignan in a difficult environment.

People are saying the word in the camp is that maybe Munster aren't hitting the highs. But generally, over the last couple of months, they have won big games.

After last week against Ulster they will be disappointed because it was a game they could have won, but didn't deserve to win.

The re-emergence of the Munster maul is a huge weapon -- it got them two tries at Ravenhill, and maybe a third one that needed to be looked at upstairs.

I suppose there was a time when all Munster could score off was the maul.

The big call of the weekend is Ian Keatley or JJ Hanrahan. I feel at the moment that JJ is certainly No 1 and hopefully they go with him.

Maybe Keatley is playing the game the way he wants it played. I don't want to drive the axe into a fella, but I struggle to see it. JJ is the man in form.

Maybe there are things that we are not seeing, but from the outside, I think Keatley is starting to struggle from the JJ pressure. And it's affecting his game.

I don't know if he was injured or not, but going to a place like Ravenhill, all I know is that you need your No 10 to kick 90 or 95pc and have a half-decent game. He failed to deliver on both accounts.

At the moment, JJ seems to be delivering each time he has started. I always feel if a fella is scoring tries, it is showing his form. JJ is that kind of fella. I hope they go with him.

Irish Independent

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