Foley warns Munster of ‘no more tomorrows’ with Saracens on horizon

Murray remains doubt for Champions Cup clash

In weeks like this, it can’t be easy being a Munster player, or a new head coach come to think of it. They have a rich heritage in Europe, and arguably their most remarkable achievement is having charted their way through the choppy waters of the pool stages 14 times in the last 15 seasons. Then again, therefore, weeks like this can also be inspiring.

So it is that Munster will find themselves in classic backs-to-the-wall mode against Saracens on their all-weather Allianz Park pitch this Saturday. Lose, and they’re out. Win, and they survive for at least another week.

"To be honest we don't talk about that, we talk about how to win a game, we don't look at the history books or what's gone before," said Anthony Foley.

“We understand that if we win the game it gives us another day out in terms of another opportunity in terms of getting more points to get out of the group. That’s all it does. And that if we lose, we are basically out.


“We understand that and we need to go about our job as if we are playing a knock-out game, the same as if you have any sense of imagination when we were young fellas playing schools cup matches. ‘This is it, there is no tomorrow’.”

It would help enormously if Conor Murray is passed fit. A hugely influential fulcrum of Munster's game this season, never more so than when applying the "boring" kicking game which helped Munster beat Saracens 14-3 in round two, Murray has undergone a scan on a neck injury sustained against Zebre on Saturday.

Shoulder injury

Sidelined from the festive derbies due to “a shoulder injury”, and again from training on Tuesday, Murray’s well-being is a worry.

David Kilcoyne and Robin Copeland remain sidelined, although James Cronin and Keith Earls are options that Foley and co will assess in the next couple of days after replacement cameos in Zebre.

They both may well start, with Duncan Casey, BJ Botha, Paul O'Connell and Tommy O'Donnell also expected to return up front.

O'Connell, who in December said he was undecided about playing on after the World Cup, reiterated yesterday he would retire after the World Cup or at the end of the 2015-16 season.

As for this week, Foley added that “it is about making sure we play a smart game against them and try to beat them.

“It is not an easy thing to be done over there. Obviously they have home advantage – a pitch that we wouldn’t normally play on that they play on nearly every second week.

“It does have a consequence on the outcome in terms of what way the ball goes at times,” added the Munster coach, citing a freakish bounce which contributed to a 14-point turnaround during Clermont’s 30-23 defeat on the Allianz Park 4G all-weather pitch, where Saracens have won 23 of 26 games.

Be prepared

“We have obviously played Cardiff Blues there for a couple of seasons. We have used the [all-weather] pitch in UL and hopefully it has been enough for us to be prepared that we can just concentrate on the 15 on 15.”

Citing Saracens’ “physical forward pack” and “international standard half-backs”, Foley added: “They can play a very physical game and they also can go to the width and counter-attack very well. They have a very strategic kicking game and they do like to play the game in the right areas of the pitch. They are the full package.”

Playing a smart game would mean “taking their strengths away from them”, with Munster taking their template from that 14-3 win in round two, albeit he accepted that the 51st-minute sin-binning of prop Rhys Gill was pivotal, prior to which there had never been more than a score between them in five previous meetings.

“The first game against Saracens was as good as Munster have played this season in terms of how we controlled the game and how we didn’t flinch. Sometimes you can unfortunately get bored of what is working and try something else, but we stayed on task and we ended up with a good result. Something similar will be needed for the weekend.”

Munster have had a colourful history with Saturday's referee Romain Poite, but Foley maintained that he "liked" Poite. "He's a very good referee. He's straight down the line, very consistent and that's what you look for in a referee. It's the same for both sides and that's all you hope for.

“We know there might be a score in this game and you’re talking about very small margins. There could be a scrum here, a scrum penalty there; a missed tackle, a knock-on. But you need to be on your money every second of the game. You need to know what’s important.

“It’s about staying in the moment, being as accurate as you can be and trying to take the game away from them away from home. It’s a hard thing to do, Clermont did it to us at Thomond Park in round three and, if we can take stuff we’ve done in the past and implement that, then we have a chance. But it’s obviously a place where not many teams go and win.”

Munster are seeking their 100th win in Europe. Given the circumstances, it would rank pretty high on that list.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times