Munster must banish thoughts of Toulouse to win in Edinburgh

Connacht face a similarly crucial game against Benetton

Time was when Munster were notorious for producing a distracted performance the week before their annual obsession with all things European came to the fore again. Ever the Drama Kings, it was as if they needed a little wake-up call.

This goes back to a then-rare defeat at Thomond Park against Edinburgh by 21-10 in October 2006, a week before Munster went over to Welford Road and beat Leicester. There have been another eight defeats the week before round one in Europe since then. Admittedly, seven have been away to Leinster but there was an alarming 22-6 loss to the Dragons in December 2016 and, in their last game before that miraculous win away to Wasps last season, they lost dismally away to Ospreys.*

Well, times have changed.

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In reaching the quarter-final play-offs and qualifying for next season’s Champions Cup there is far less margin for error in the rebranded URC, and Munster’s slow start has given them even less elbow room.

Granted, last Saturday’s vital 24-17 win over Connacht has elevated Munster from 14th to 10th, but after five defeats in their opening seven matches, they head to Edinburgh next Friday six points adrift of the fifth-placed side, even though the latter lost in Treviso on Saturday.

“We have got a huge game Friday night,” admitted Graham Rowntree in a message he had no doubt already conveyed to his players. “I have got to pick the right team because we have got a few bangs. I look at Edinburgh and Glasgow’s selection this weekend, they have obviously been saving a few guys. We have got a big challenge.”

Munster host Toulouse in the Champions Cup next Sunday week, but Rowntree stressed: “We won’t speak about Europe. Seriously, we won’t speak about Europe until after this next game. We will see who comes through Friday night. Let’s build on this momentum next Friday night and then Europe will take care of itself.”

To that end, Peter O’Mahony departed in the 36th minute against Connacht with what Rowntree said was “a f****d nose” while Mike Haley left for an HIA without returning. But Keith Earls might come into the mix.

Connacht entertain Benetton in an equally important game for them next Saturday afternoon, as they sit in 13th on 14 points, with the Italian side lying sixth on 19 points.

“We’ve won three games out of eight now, which is not what we were expecting and not what we wanted so we’ve got a bit of work to do.”

Nor will Benetton roll over and have their bellies tickled.

“No, you saw today against a good Edinburgh side they had a bonus-point win, 24-17, and they got a red card pretty early in the game. They’re a good football side. Their whole pack are internationals so I’d imagine those blokes will turn up next weekend, so it’s a big ask. They’ve got their tails up and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

*Article amended at 2pm on November 28th, 2022

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times