Thursday 20 June 2019

'It was massive for the dressing-room' - JJ Hanrahan says December win over Leinster has given Reds semi belief

Munster 15 Benetton 13

JJ Hanrahan saves the day for Munster, kicking the winning penalty against Benetton in their Guinness PRO14 quarter-final. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
JJ Hanrahan saves the day for Munster, kicking the winning penalty against Benetton in their Guinness PRO14 quarter-final. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

If Munster turn up at the RDS for their PRO14 semi-final against Leinster on Saturday week and play like they did against Benetton, their season will be over.

The chances of them giving such an insipid display at the home of their fiercest rivals are slim. This one should get the juices flowing.

JJ Hanrahan of Munster in action against Hame Faiva of Benetton Rugby. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
JJ Hanrahan of Munster in action against Hame Faiva of Benetton Rugby. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

If life was fair, the Italians would be the ones tuning in to this weekend's Champions Cup final with their analytical hats on. Kieran Crowley's team rejected every Munster attack as if their lives depended on it and then produced a lovely try from Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara on the cusp of half-time.

They dominated the second-half, but their discipline and profligacy cost them as Munster hung in there and did enough to give JJ Hanrahan another match-winning moment.

The Kerryman's penalty from the half-way line set up the all-Irish clash and a repeat of the December game when Leinster lost their heads at Thomond Park.

Hanrahan wasn't involved that night, but his recent form has surely moved him ahead of the lacklustre Tyler Bleyendaal in the pecking order - even if Joey Carbery returns, as is expected.

Federico Ruzza of Benetton Rugby wins possession from a Munster lineout ahead of Peter O'Mahony of Munster. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Federico Ruzza of Benetton Rugby wins possession from a Munster lineout ahead of Peter O'Mahony of Munster. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Confidence

And he says the 26-17 victory has filled the men in red with confidence as they make the trip up the M7.

"It was massive for the dressing-room," he said.

"Particularly I think it was great to get it at home as well. We know at home they're going to be a different animal up there, it's a different aspect going up to Dublin to play them, but look, Johann (van Graan) has mentioned a few times how good they are.

"They're definitely one of the top two sides in Europe and they've shown that because of the way they've played and obviously they're in the final, so it will be interesting to see who will come out on top of that next week.

"We've got a lot of work to do and we'll go back to the drawing board and we'll make our plans and we'll give it a crack when we get up there."

A few weeks ago Munster found the going too good against the other 'top-two' side and they'll get to see Saracens and Leinster tear lumps out of each other in Newcastle this weekend before Leo Cullen patches together a side for the semi-final.

Due to retirements, injuries and departures, Leinster's depth is not as strong as it was a year ago and Munster feel like they have bridged the gap.

Although they were poor on Saturday, they hope to welcome Keith Earls and Carbery back and if they make it then they will have most of their best players available.

The one facet of their game that let them down in Dublin a year ago was their skill-set and attacking execution and, while Munster say they have improved in that area, the on-pitch evidence is not compelling.

A tryless 80 minutes against Treviso didn't help make their case.

"I think if you actually really analyse (us), we've added an awful lot to our game, that's for sure," Hanrahan said.

"Particularly in our attacking game. I think in our fitness as well. I think there was only one point in it last year and it came down to very small moments so I think we're definitely better equipped this year to give it a better crack."

No one was sugar-coating the need to improve, but the occasion on Saturday didn't do much to inspire a performance.

Treviso merited their place in the knockouts for the first time, but they didn't put bums on seats as two ends of Thomond Park remained closed and just over 10,000 fans showed up.

Those that did were treated to a frustrating display of Munster's attacking limitations.

As much as people will criticise the coaches' plans, it was the players' skills that let them down and you got the sense that if they had managed to make their dominant opening quarter pay they might have pulled away.

They didn't and ended up in an arm wrestle as a result.

"Some games you are going to play better than others," van Graan said.

"I've said all along that it's going to be ebbs and flows, we're the first guys to say, inside, to the people that matter, to our players and management, 'look, the performance on the day wasn't good enough, but we still got the result'.

"So, that's a frustration from all of us and we know we have got to be better to go and beat Leinster."

The scenario is the same as 12 months ago when the boys in blue returned from Bilbao and squeezed past their neighbours in a one-point game.

Munster are desperate to show progression and get to Glasgow for the final.

To do so they'll need to make major improvements and they know it.

MUNSTER - M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell (D Goggin 69), D Sweetnam; T Bleyendaal (JJ Hanrahan 48), C Murray (A Mathewson 67); D Kilcoyne (L O'Connor 73), N Scannell (K O'Byrne 73), S Archer (J Ryan 51); J Kleyn, T Beirne (B Holland 48); P O'Mahony (capt), C Cloete (A Botha 63), CJ Stander.

BENETTON - J Hayward; R Tavuyara, M Zanon (A Scarbi 67), L Morisi, M Ioane; T Allan (capt) (A Rizzi 79), D Duvenage (T Tebaldi 42-48, 79); N Quaglio (D Appiah 48), L Bigi (H Faiva 48), M Riccioni (T Pasquali 63); M Lazzaroni (I Herbst 51), F Ruzza; S Negri (D Budd 51), A Steyn, T Halafihi.

Ref - N Owens (Wales)

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