Whether or not both teams will still be in contention come the fourth and final round of Heineken Champions Cup pool matches in January, the rematch between Harlequins and Munster is liable to have some cordite in the air given the fallout from the Irish side’s 21-7 win at Thomond Park last Sunday.
Three Harlequins players were yellow carded, including Alex Dombrandt for one of two late hits on Munster replacement outhalf Ben Healy, which has resulted in the 21-year-old being ruled out of Saturday's game away to Clermont Auvergne (kick-off 5.30pm Irish time) with a shoulder injury.
The Munster attack coach and revered Wallabies World Cup-winning outhalf Stephen Larkham, admitted targeting '10s' is "part and parcel of the game definitely. Whether you run at the 10, whether you're tackling him or trying to put pressure on him before he passes the ball, it's definitely a part of most teams' gameplans.
“What I didn’t like about the weekend is the way they went about it. It was illegal and I think the ref dealt with it. The citing commissioner looked at it and deemed it wasn’t more than a yellow card so I think it’s done. It’s done now. The sad news is that Ben misses a couple of weeks because of that.”
However, the Harlequins scrumhalf Danny Care, added fuel to the fire when accusing Munster players of diving and comparing them to the antics of some Paris Saint-Germain players.
Speaking on the BBC’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast, Care lamented his team’s discipline but added: “There was a couple of 50-50 decisions went against us, a couple of Irish linesmen, but we won’t say anything more than that.
"I've heard they're all complaining about late hits. Ask Mike Brown about late hits and why he didn't come back on the pitch. He was KO'd. But nothing came of that, and then we took a couple of yellow cards for it. You go after every '10'. Anything that we done to their '10' wasn't not done to our players.
“We thought we were playing PSG a couple of times with all the rolling around and diving and complaining. It’s a physical sport sometimes. Obviously they got the better of it at the weekend, well done to them. We look forward to the rematch in January. I loved the game, it was niggly, feisty – England v Ireland. It made me feel like I was back in a Test match environment.”
Healy's halfback partner, Conor Murray, laughed off Care's comments.
“Ah, it’s a podcast. There’s so much talk in podcasts these days. It’s just lads chatting. To be honest with you I don’t think anything is meant by it. I’m sure if you ask Ben Healy if it was a dive I don’t think so.
“There’s a scan on his shoulder that shows you a little bit different. I’m not digging back at anyone because I know what podcasts are like. They’re lads having a bit of craic. I don’t even know if I will hear it or whatever, [but] no I don’t think that’s a fair comment.”
While Murray accepted that targeting the ‘10’ was part of the game, he added: “The hit on Ben was just late and reckless. That’s not going after someone, that’s just going against the laws of the game and no one likes to see that.”
Applying pressure, even shouting at an opponent, is one thing, said Murray, adding: “It’s a contact sport. I know there’s a fine line as well but recklessness and seriously injuring people just isn’t any team talk or ‘prep’ I’ve been involved with, so I don’t think it should be part of it.”
In Healy's absence, Larkham strongly intimated that Jake Flannery will be back-up to JJ Hanrahan in the Stade Marcel Michelin with Jack Crowley set to play 80 minutes for the Munster As against Leinster at Thomond Park on Friday (5.30pm). Flannery started at outhalf, with Crowley at '12', in Munster A's defeat by Ulster last Saturday.
“It is definitely going to be the toughest game that we have had this season and it is probably going to be the toughest game that we have in the round games,” admitted Larkham.
In the absence of fans last Sunday in Thomond Park, the sound of celebratory tooting from cars outside was clearly audible, although Larkham admitted he didn’t get a chance to watch Limerick’s win in the All-Ireland final earlier that day. Whereas he might be of a mind to try his hand at Gaelic football, less so hurling.
For his part, Murray revealed he had been keeping an eye on how events were unraveling in Croke Park that afternoon.
“I won’t tell anyone how late I was looking at SkyGo on the phone because Johann will give out to me. But I was definitely keeping an eye, it was such a huge day for the hurlers.
"They are an unbelievable outfit," added Murray referencing his fellow Patrickswell mates Cian Lynch, Aaron Gillane and Diarmaid Byrnes.
“I am delighted for them, they look as if they are not going anywhere soon and I’ll be on the bandwagon for another while hopefully. During the game you could hear the cars beeping on the road and you could put two and two together and presume they had won.
“It is brilliant but a shame without the crowds and the homecoming. But like I said they are a team that is going to be here for a while.”