Andrew Conway and Munster intend to keep pedal to the floor against Wasps

‘It’s Europe in Thomond and there’s no getting away from it’

Munster may have already qualified for the knock-out stages but Munster in the Heineken Champions Cup at Thomond Park don't do dead rubbers, least of all Sunday's return meeting with Wasps.

At stake is a last 16 second leg at home, with the prized carrot of a potential home quarter-final as well, when Thomond Park will hopefully be in full bear-pit mode.

"I don't know the exact stats but as far as I do know over the years the home team does have an advantage in knock-out rugby in Europe," says Andrew Conway, speaking during an online event for the tournament sponsor.

“It’s big and Thomond Park is different gravy as well. We’re treating this as a must win. That’s the conversation we’re having behind the scenes. We know Wasps have a lot on the line too. We know they can qualify.


“We had a memorable match with them for a variety of different reasons the last time and they’re going to be hurting from that too. They’ve got massive confidence from two really impressive wins in fairness to them,” adds Conway, regarding Wasps’ victories over Leicester and Toulouse.

“It’s Europe in Thomond and there’s no getting away from it. There’s something special about Europe in Thomond, and anybody who’s ever been to one or watched one on TV knows that, and we have the privilege to go out and play in them.”

Six weeks ago, Conway was one of seven internationals against Wasps alongside a dozen young debutants; five in the starting line-up, including 19-year-old fullback Paddy Campbell.

It was as if Conway's career had come full circle, given his Euro debut with Leinster against Exeter in October 2012 was alongside Johnny Sexton, Isa Nacewa and Brian O'Driscoll among others.

“That was one tough game,” recalls Conway of a 9-6 win in Exeter’s competition debut. “I remember the first time I was named to play with Brian O’Driscoll. Honestly, my head was blown. I think I was 18 and we were playing in the Sportsground, and got a walloping.

“Isa looked after me so much in those early years. He was such a good man and an iconic rugby player. It seems like a long, long time ago, which it was.”

Now 30, Conway felt a similar sense of responsibility prior to that first Wasps game.

“We had a buddy system, where we paired up with one of the young boys, not in an over-the-top way; just checking in on them out on the pitch, Small, subtle things.

“Then, when it came down to the match, I couldn’t have had more belief that we were winning that game. There was just something in the air. The buzz and the cohesion just felt right.

“They’re unique weeks and you ride on this mad energy from the whole situation. You see that a lot in sports. You could even feel the people from the province were in such a special place that couple of weeks and we just rode off that energy. And that connection is still there. That will stand to the young lads and the group. One of the most enjoyable weeks I have ever had.”

‘I’m buzzing now’

Conway’s try that day is one of five in nine games for province and country this season. He still feels there were “a multitude of things I could have done better” against Castres last week, but helped by Munster’s performance psychologist Caroline Currid last Tuesday, he believes he has ironed that out.

“I’m buzzing now for Sunday and a big couple of months.”

Indeed. His fiancee Liz is expecting their first child in April, and they are marrying in August after the postponement of their wedding in 2020.

“That’s not getting a look-in at the moment with the baby coming. We’re unbelievably excited. We’re coming into the business end now and I’m heading off to camp but I’ll be back as often as I can.”

After last Friday's win in Castres, Peter O'Mahony's heartfelt post-match comments reflected the widespread shock felt in the country following the murder of Aisling Murphy.

“We were absolutely sickened by it,” says Conway. “Four o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon is just beyond comprehension. Talking with my two sisters and my fiancee, every woman has a story when scared in certain scenarios, or intimidated. We’re all unbelievably sorry for her family and her boyfriend. It makes me feel sick the thought of what they are going through.

“It’s something that we can’t have happen again. On our small little island women need to feel safe at all times and us men need to do better as a whole. It can’t just be talked about for a week and left until something happens again.

“I know the Government are looking to put in new legislation about stalking, and there’s talk about education in schools and colleges, and that’s great, but I think we need to keep the finger on the pulse and make sure this never happens again.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times