Even a victory will not redeem the worst run of pool defeats Munster have ever suffered in Europe. This has left them with nothing to play for but their pride this Saturday against Stade Francais at Thomond Park. But then again, their pride has never been more wounded.
They are also putting their pride on the line at what was once their fortress, their citadel, and against a team who are the French champions and embarrassed them with 14 men in Paris last Saturday. But in a sense that doesn’t even matter.
"We have everything to play for," insists hooker Mike Sherry. "We are playing in Thomond Park in Europe against a French team. Me personally, I am playing in a rugby team with my closest friends, playing in front of my family, my girlfriend, my friends that I went to school with, and I am playing in front of Munster supporters. It doesn't matter if we are out of Europe or we got hockeyed the week before. We have got everything to play for."
Sherry also admits he has never experienced a trough of form and results like this in his career. “I wouldn’t say a lot of us have slept very well since the weekend. It’s not for lack of trying, I can promise you that. It is a tough situation. It is a bit of a vicious cycle at the minute. We need a performance to get us out of this, and we need to back up that performance a few weeks in a row.”
Sherry talks about the acute frustration that comes with reviews of performances in which the same mistakes keep happening.
“A coach is showing you the opportunity you are creating and then you are dropping the ball, or you are kicking it out on the full, or you are throwing a crocked line-out, or missing a one-on-one tackle. Professional players shouldn’t be doing that, and that is what we are doing at the minute.”
“I back the coaches, the systems they have in place, all scenarios are talked through. Our preparation is second to none I believe. But individual errors are costing us dearly. Three Stade tries came from Munster possessions and turnovers and they walked through us for one-on-one tackles that you have to make at this level. So people just need to front up, put up their hands and say this won’t happen again. If it does, you are off the team.”
In all of this Sherry is apologetic for repeating the same mantra to the media and public, albeit that their confidence has now become an underlying problem.
“We are in a vicious cycle and people are getting tense. The coaches are getting stick, the players are being criticised – are we a good enough group, do we enough talent/heart? People are maybe tightening up and one error compounds into another. I do believe in us, I do believe that we have enough skill, enough heart and enough talent to get out of this. It’s about trotting up and doing it now. I was in front of ye a few weeks ago and I feel like I am repeating myself, I am trying not to but we just need to show up week and week and do our jobs which we are not doing at the minute.”
Munster have always stressed that individual recognition comes on the back of their collective achievement on the pitch. Thus while acutely disappointed not to have been called into the 50-strong two-day Irish get-together at the start of last week, he accepts that this can only be rectified by what Munster do from next Saturday onwards.
That Munster had sought to bring in Stephen Moore after the World Cup did not faze him.
“No it wouldn’t affect me. I’ve gone through a lot to get back here and the fact that I’m starting and playing in European matches in incredible stadiums over in Paris is a bonus for me.”
“I’m not a cocky fella in any way or brash but I would back myself. I think I am a very good player and he could only improve me and my game. He’s come here with a lot of pedigree and experience so I could learn off him. I think that if push came to shove I would back myself against anyone in the world. That’s not me being cocky. Most people know I’m not a cocky fella but having him here would only improve me.”
Similarly, former players such as Alan Quinlan condemning last week's performance comes, says Sherry, with the territory.
“Everyone’s entitled to an opinion, the fact that he is on Sky, a lot has been made of it. I think he is right to question the performances, I don’t disagree with him on that front.”
“There are certain things I would disagree with,” maintained Sherry, repeating his belief that the team can salvage their season.
“We can still win a league, we can still put our best foot forward in Europe and finish on 15 points if we get two bonus point victories.”
“I only care about what the players I play with, the coaches that are coaching me, and my family and immediate friends are saying, my immediate circle. Obviously I care, the fans are struggling at the minute to see what we are trying to do on the pitch. But all I can ask for, is stick with us and we will try our absolute hardest to set it right this weekend.”