Coughlan ready to start something special
For the current occupants of the famous red jersey, which is more synonymous with great deeds of escapism and heroism than perhaps any other team in the history of the Heineken Cup, emulating such past exploits can be imposing. A decade and a day on from the so-called Miracle Match, that 33-6 win over Gloucester, and with only two of the Cup-winning side of 2008 in their starting line-up, they have rarely weighed so heavily.
Admittedly, beating second-string opposition with little tangible to play for and reduced to 14 men after five minutes hardly compares with achieving the target of a four tries to nil, 27-point winning margin against one of England’s finest and the pool leaders.
The achievement was nonetheless all the greater without their twin totems, Paul O’Connell and the suspended Ronan O’Gara as outlined by James Coughlan. “ I think it’s something we spoke about at the start of the season that it was our time now. There’s plenty of pictures up around the place but none of them are of us and that’s a motivation for the group. As I said it’s only the end of the pool, but it’s the start of the important stuff; a massive challenge.”
“It’s a big relief and a massive challenge going forward. It’s more a start than an end really. That’s how we’re looking at it. It’s the beginning of the important stuff. I thought we played really well today. I’m very proud of that performance. It was a bit ropey there for 20 minutes but I think we stuck to what we were good at and thankfully we got what we needed.”
Edge to proceedings
In the process, Munster put Leinster out, which undoubtedly added an edge to proceedings, at least amongst the crowd. “Did we?” said Coughlan, surely feigning a lack of knowledge of the entire circumstances to what admittedly is an awkward scenario. “It’s a quality team out of the competition. It wasn’t anyway a motivating factor for us and they might have said the same about putting us out. It’s one quality team out of the competition. It’s one less team that you are going to have to face.”
“When they got the red card it was, Jesus let’s throw the kitchen sink at them whereas when we settled down we got through four or five phases that’s when the advantage comes because they have no-one left and the first 20 minutes it was a bit haywire, the first three scrums were penalty, free kick, penalty get a penalty that we put to the corner and put it dead, it was like jeez, but once we got a grip of it and getting the third try before half-time was vital. You know then it’s only one after half time and then you can play. It’s a big relief.”
Munster at least have the sustenance of an April quarter-final to look forward to.
“Harlequins have a fantastic record, six from six . . . There’ll be no shortage of motivation considering we lost the semi-final against them here so if that’s it then that’s it we have to go and do what we have to do,” said Coughlan in reference to the Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final defeat Harlequins inflicted on Munster at Thomond Park two seasons ago.
Early red card
The outgoing Racing coach Gonzalo Quesada denied his was a second string selection, maintaining all those who had played three successive games needed to be rested, and was clearly aggrieved by the early red card shown to his flanker Antoine Batut.
“I saw the images. It is true it was a strange movement but he touches nothing. I didn’t see a head on the head. I watched it 100 times. Maybe where Mr Barnes was he imagined a head or something. Some minutes later he was told number nine red punched someone, the linesman called him to tell him that, and nothing happened. It was quite strange.”
He also reacted to amusement when asked about Jonny Sexton being linked with his club. “Honestly, I read the papers and I didn’t know it had happened. If something happened I want you to give me more information. I promise. I saw that in the paper and I said ‘wow’. I heard that he was visiting France but I think Leinster is a big club coached by a big coach. I don’t know what he will do but if I was Jonny having the possibility of playing for Joe Schmidt, for Leinster, for Ireland, I think it’s not enough money to go against that.
“An Irish guy that can play for Leinster, for Ireland and for, I think, maybe the best coach in Europe. I think he is just visiting (Paris). I don’t think he’ll leave, but that’s just my sensation. Honestly I wasn’t there. I wasn’t part of any meeting or anything.”
As an advertisement to join them next season, it was hardly compelling.