Felix Jones knows Munster have the belief to get past Gloucester
Fullback is hoping his side don’t have to produce another great escape
Felix Jones in action against Perpignan: the fullback acknowledges wearing the Munster jersey comes with a duty to deliver. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Losing to Ulster in the heart of Belfast is never on Munster’s annual blueprint but coughing up 20 points in just over 30 minutes of play is through-the-looking-glass stuff.
The past two seasons have brought immense changes to the steadiest house in elite European rugby and occasionally now, Munster fall into holes like that. But equally, there have been signs this year that Rob Penney’s emergent team have tapped into the old Munster knack of clawing their way back into games and manufacturing indecent escapes. And so it went in Ravenhill. Back they came, minute by minute.
“Yeah, but we’re not trying to put ourselves in a position to do that,” says Felix Jones, thinking his way through the twists of a game that contained the best and worst of Munster.
“Obviously we’re trying to win games before it comes to the last minute. However, that was the situation we were in [in a few games] and we found [in Ravenhill] we were in a position to win it with about three or four minutes to go. As it happened they managed to hold us off, get back down the field and then take away the bonus point with the penalty.
“We had massive belief at the time that we were going to do it just like in the previous weeks. We’re not going out to try and do it [that way] but there is belief that when we’re in the situation that we can actually do it.”
That hoary, unshakable belief in the collective has been Munster’s intangible asset through the professional era. Keeping it bottled through these seasons in which they are essentially shaping a brand new team is a delicate task.
Duty to deliver
For players like Jones, who has thrived at fullback under the Munster way since signing from Leinster as a novice professional, wearing the jersey brings with it a duty to deliver. Losing an Irish derby in the RaboDirect is one thing but he is forthright about the likely public reaction if they fail to advance to the Heineken Cup knock-out stage.
“I think in Munster not to qualify for [the quarter-finals] is always going to be seen as unforgivable. After the Edinburgh game we knew we had to fight to get ourselves into this position so it’s very hard to look upon these games as a whole, we look on them individually as they come . . .”
Munster travel to King Edward country to play a Gloucester side smarting from a 29-8 lecture delivered by Saracens and are generally floundering in the domestic league: the prize scalp of the Irish club could be the last opportunity to revive the season. Jones and the rest are anticipating a hot reception at Kingsholm.
“I think we probably got caught on turnover ball [against Ulster] a few times . . . if I was Gloucester watching the video I would say they will have massive emphasis on that, especially considering the speed they have in their back three. They have some very dangerous players, so that would be a huge area . . .”
Within Munster, the sense that places are there to be won heightens the intensity of weekly training but with the rotating doors has come unpredictable performances.
“The morale is great,” Jones says. “You guys don’t get to see it but if you were to look at, say, JJ and Keats, those two guys are incredibly close, they’re constantly helping one another and it is the same across the pitch in a lot of positions, certainly it’s the case in the back three . . .”
With the drum roll already sounding for the international season, Jones admits he is desperately keen for any involvement and to add to the five caps he has won.
He was in the Ireland camp ahead of the autumn international against New Zealand and discovered that Joe Schmidt’s tips and advice on his personal game were every bit as detailed as he had heard they would be.
“I was warned, he knows all the minute details of play, down to where you should be standing on a penalty, so I was well primed . . . Joe has an incredible knowledge base of the game . . . That’s out of my control, I can’t make him pick me, all I can do is concentrate on how I’m going and what I’m doing on a weekly basis.”