Next five weeks crucial - Munster captain Coughlan
Munster forward James Coughlan believes the next five weeks are crucial for his side this season as they bid to stay in the hunt for glory in the Heineken Cup and RaboDirect Pro 12.
Munster, with the dates for their remaining two pool games in January now finalised, play the first of two derby games in a week against Connacht tomorrow, and Coughlan, who will captain the side, reckons the importance of the next phase of matches cannot be underestimated.
They will host Ulster next weekend and then face Cardiff Blues before their remaining Heineken Cup pool games against, Edinburgh and Racing Metro.
“It’s a massive five weeks for the club, the derby games are always massive occasions, we have Ulster coming down here and we know what happened the last time they came here, so that will be in our heads.
“But we can’t look beyond the weekend against Connacht, if we did we would be doing ourselves and Connacht a disservice. They’re coming off a fantastic result at home to Biarritz – I really don’t know how they played the away game in those conditions – but I think it is now up to us to get our mentality right and get the detail into our game.
“If we don’t get what we want out of the next five weeks we’re going to be struggling for the top four and we certainly won’t have qualified for the Heineken Cup,” he said.
Coughlan firmly believes they can still make the knockout stages despite the losses to Racing Metro and Saracens.
“I don’t think anything changed, I think others losing was a good thing from our point of view. I believed beforehand that we needed to win all the games, but that would have topped the group.
In the shake up
“However, the way things are panning out I think 20 points, and it has been proven in the past , I think we need to get between 19 and 21 and if we do we will certainly be in the shake up,” he added.
Coughlan, who won his 100th cap in Vicarage Road last Sunday, is just one of five players who started against Saracens listed to line-out on Saturday in a game that sees the return from injury of Denis Hurley, Tommy O’Donnell and Sean Dougall.
South African Danie Poolman can’t wait for his first Irish derby tomorrow and he is hopeful Connacht can secure what would be only their second ever win over Munster in the professional era.
The 23-year old, who is from Pretoria and who played Super 15 rugby with the Stormers, said he is looking forward to the clash with Munster.
“The derbies in South Africa were tough, but I am looking forward to experiencing this. I can just imagine it is going to be big,” he said.
Nearly there January return for O'Driscoll
Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll will hopefully be back to play in January. At this stage he’s just not sure at what point next month. He is rehabilitating after ankle surgery.
Speaking at an IRFU press conference to confirm Lucozade as a sponsor, he admitted: “It is on track. I am due to come back and play towards the end of January. That is 11 or 12 weeks. I would be hopeful to play a fraction before that. Just when that is I don’t know.”
As to whether he would miss rounds five and six in the Heineken Cup, he said: “I suppose I could. I really haven’t thought about five and six at the moment.
“You have the occasional day that you get a little reality check. For the most part, it has been a pretty good rehab process.”
MUNSTER: D Hurley; J Murphy, C Laulala, J Downey, L ODea; I Keatley, P Stringer; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, S Archer; D OCallaghan, B Holland; P Butler, T O’Donnell, J Coughlan capt. Replacements: S Henry, W du Preez, BJ Botha, D Foley, S Dougall, D Williams, JJ Hanrahan, D Barnes.