Sport Rugby

Thursday 22 February 2018

Penney's troops have too much in tank to fail

Ian Keately will be looking to repay Rob Penney's faith in him by delivering a big performance against Gloucester today
Ian Keately will be looking to repay Rob Penney's faith in him by delivering a big performance against Gloucester today
David Kelly

David Kelly

They're never better than when they're bitter -- Munster trademarked the phrase that denotes a particular sense of rampant paranoia that everyone thinks you're rubbish and not capable of delivering.

The ironic thing about the tag is that teams must normally go to great lengths to acquire such a dubious attachment -- usually by being rubbish, which is exactly what Gloucester were in last week's 29-8 humiliation to Saracens in front of the formidable Shed faithful.

The bitterness quotient soared on the back of a witless and gutless display that, at one stage, witnessed an eight-man home scrum shunted unmercifully off their own put-in by seven -- and one of those seven was a centre.

Ex-players queued up to berate the Cherry and Whites -- and former greats dissing on their erstwhile employers is always a key element to engendering bitterness within dressing-rooms.

Hence coach Nigel Davies -- who quite a few of the home support would like to see dispatched on a bus back to his Welsh homeland -- has enlisted the help of a bona fide club stalwart, English back-row behemoth of yore Mike Teague, to rally his troops.

Teague, whose fine hostelry stands across the road from this famous old ground, will hand out the jerseys this afternoon before they all embark upon an elaborate coach ride to the ground.

Given their recent form, there's a good chance of them getting snarled in the town's one-way system. One senses that not even Brian Blessed delivering Al Pacino's "inches" speech from 'Any Given Sunday' could be enough to rally this sorry bunch.

This is all predicated upon evidence, of course; what Teague seeks to entice from his beloved club is that particularly magical sense of emotional uprising that ensures this wonderful competition so regularly mocks the certainty of prediction.

It will be down to Munster to slowly leak all that emotional energy from their hosts who, as they have outlined this week, aim to swing from the hip in an elaborate attempt to resuscitate seemingly forlorn qualification hopes.

"Gloucester are a side not too dissimilar to us," explains Munster prop Dave Kilcoyne.

"They are a very proud side, steeped in tradition. After suffering such a bad defeat at home last week they're going to be gunning to produce a performance to lift their home fans.

PRESSURE

"When you have a loss that bad at home everything changes. It's all into next week's performance. There is going to be huge pressure on them this week and that adds to the pressure on us."

Penney emphasises the point. "They will be a different side at home," he affirms. "One of the things that Gloucester suffered over the last few weeks, particularly after the Saracens game at the weekend, was criticism not only from their own supporters and media but also from ex-players.

"I don't think anything cuts a player worse than an ex-player criticising you. So that has just added a layer of depth and passion to their performance at the weekend which we could probably have done without."

The potential for a backlash is at least tempered by the fact that Munster will be appropriately appraised of such a threat; the power of their maul in Ravenhill and a rousing comeback will inject them with confidence.

Although their reverse in Ravenhill was hardly as jarring a defeat as today's opposition suffered, Munster have still undergone a notably stern period of introspection themselves this week.

They altered their training schedule, tacked on an extra couple of hours in the meeting room and thrashed out issues to do with their attack play, scrum defence and set-piece.

Munster, you sense, would just as well win this two kicks to one, rather than being dragged into the type of pyjama rugby Gloucester may be seeking; hence they must establish forward dominance early on.

Nevertheless, with the welcome returns of such as Conor Murray, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo to the squad, Munster are more than adequately served to expand should such a route prove unavoidable.

Expect them to establish a bullying pre-eminence as they seek to confirm their quarter-final berth, though; otherwise it could be an unnecessarily lengthy and nervy evening.

"They have got the ability to rip you up from broken play. They have got speed, pace and agility and interplay skills that are very dangerous, so you couple those things together and we are going to have to be very wary," warns Penney.

"But at least we are going in with our eyes wide open -- we can't be ambushed; if we don't front up it can't be that the players weren't forewarned because we have talked about it and discussed it.

"I don't think that will be the case, the boys are in pretty good shape. It will be a very interesting first part of the game I suspect."

BJ Botha and Dave Foley, earning reward for some fine recent form, will improve the pack and Ian Keatley will be given another chance to confirm if he can attain a sense of comfort with being the starting No 10.

Murray's return is a massive boost in a solid backline, while Penney knows that the spark of Zebo and JJ Hanrahan can always be unfurled from the bench.

With the home side including four wingers in their backline, including former Boyne man Shane Monahan, their intentions are obvious; Munster would be wise to test Martyn Thomas with a couple of early bombs.

Freddie Burns, the latest English out-half wannabe, has struggled with form and the eager, unchanged Munster back-row will eagerly sniff for his blood, while the absence of former All Black scrum-half Jimmy Cowan hints at internal disruption.

"We've got a lot to do this week to make sure that everybody sees that the shirt, the venue and the supporters mean everything to this group of players," says the beleaguered Davies.

In what will be a cracking atmosphere, Gloucester will be more bitter, for sure. But bitterness alone cannot win a game of rugby. The simple fact remains that Munster are better. And that's why they will expect to win.

Verdict: Munster

Gloucester -- M Thomas; C Sharples, J May, B Twelvetrees (c), S Monahan; F Burns, D Robson; Y Thomas, D Dawidiuk, S Puafisi, E Stooke, J Hudson, M Cox, M Kvesic, G Evans. Reps: H Edmonds, D Murphy, S Knight, T Hicks, S Kalafamoni, T Knoyle, R Cook, B Morgan.

Munster -- F Jones; K Earls, C Laulala, J Downey, J Murphy; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, BJ Botha, D Foley, P O'Connell, P O'Mahony (c), T O'Donnell, J Coughlan Reps: D Casey, J Cronin, S Archer, D O'Callaghan, CJ Stander, D Williams, JJ Hanrahan, S Zebo.

Ref -- L Hodges (WRU).

Irish Independent

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