Friday 15 December 2017

We expect to see the real Racing this time round

Ronan O’Gara will be expecting a good performance from Racing even though they will be resting several players. Photo: Romain Perrocheau/Getty Images
Ronan O’Gara will be expecting a good performance from Racing even though they will be resting several players. Photo: Romain Perrocheau/Getty Images

Jerry Flannery

It's great to be back in the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup. When I consider how tough last year's campaign was, and the previous year, you savour this one a bit more.

For Munster Rugby, financially it's very important to get through to the latter stages of the competition like we have done. The chance to play in the quarter-final at Thomond Park is important from that point of view too.

And from the point of view of our players, they will benefit playing against better opposition during the season. The top teams in Europe will make it to the last eight so the chance to test yourself against them is always welcome.

And for the supporters, it is great to be back in the knockout stages of the competition. Being knocked out at the pool stage is not what they have been raised on.

They are used to knockout rugby in Europe and to not have it for the last couple of years has been tough, but still the support has been excellent.

When we were coming into Scotstoun the last day, and I saw how many people had travelled over for the game, even speaking to Rassie and Jacques, they were so impressed about it. They weren't as aware of the tradition of Munster supporters and the level of support that they consistently give. At a relatively small ground like Scotstoun it was remarkable how many supporters were wearing red, and that's a huge boost.

I am delighted for the fans, because this gives them something as kind of a reward for all of their efforts following us around the place.

Massive

There is still a lot of work to do if we want to get the home quarter-final but now it is in our hands which is a massive part of it. We just have to get the result against Racing 92 and hopefully that will come through for us.

The most common view on the game is going to be that Racing 92 will send over a dud team and it's a dead rubber for them, in that they won't put up too much of a fight.

On the other side of it, Ronan O'Gara was saying that they are going to have rest most of their French internationals in the week prior to the Six Nations. If they are going to rest them next week, why would they rest them all this week?

We could be facing a very strong Racing 92 team and the fact that they are probably pissed off with the way the game went over in Paris, they are going to be well up for it. 

We have already shown our hand so far, in terms of the game-plan we used against them in Stade Yves-du-Manoir, and they can't go much worse than they did in that game. 

As a result, we are expecting to face a Racing 92 side more like the one that defeated Leicester last weekend than the one we faced in Paris.

The appetite has always been there for Munster in the knock-out stages in Europe. The home game in January in Thomond Park has always been a marker for the season. When I played, these were the games that we identified as what you play for Munster for - they are generally going to decide the future of the team.

I know we have qualified already but this game will decide whether Munster have a home quarter-final or not. You are playing in front of your friends and family there, so there is no shortage of motivation.

There are an exciting few months ahead but our main focus is just to be in contention all of the time. At the moment we are in contention in both the Pro12 and Champions Cup.

As the season pushes on then you can start looking at the possibilities of what you can really achieve as a team. But for now we just want to keep on performing in both competitions because no one wins anything at this stage of the season.

In general, it sharpens your focus when there you are competitive on a couple of fronts. Because you know there are massive Champions Cup games around the corner lads are very keen to break into the side for the massive occasions.

It keeps people switched on because if you are only in contention for the Pro12 it's a league, and if you lose a game you can recover. If you lose a game in the knockout stages in Europe, you are gone.

From a player point of view, it's always nice to go up to Ireland camp on the back of going well with your province, and hopefully the lads can continue that this weekend.

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