Peter O’Mahony in the mood for a special night in Thomond Park
Munster captain ready for a special home atmosphere for the visit of Clermont
Munster’s Peter O’Mahony: his side is seeking its 100th win in European rugby when Clermont visit Thomond Park on Saturday. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Playing all their home games this season at Thomond Park while Musgrave Park is being redeveloped is one thing. Being compelled to play five of the six so far on Friday nights has been an added difficulty given the spread of Munster’s support base, notably Cork 70 miles away, along with traffic congestion and transport infrastructure.
But this Saturday’s rendezvous with Clermont is the kind of occasion which made Munster and Thomond Park synonymous with epic European nights.
Kicking off under the floodlights at 5.30pm, the game was sold out from Monday and unlike the Friday night sell-out under lights for the visit of Saracens in round two, one imagines there will be much fewer unoccupied seats.
“It’s going to be unreal,” ventures Munster captain Peter O’Mahony. “It’s going to be great. It’s going to one of those special ones again. Half five on a Saturday is the one you want. It’s something that you never take for granted, obviously pending selection, but you get a chance to go out there on Saturdays which you’d never take for granted,” he repeats.
“For me it’s just a confidence boost just to know that you’re at home and everybody is behind you and everybody is willing you on. It’s kind of hard to put into words that it’s like; it’s what’s special about the ground really. If you were to take a snapshot of it, the little canter we do when we go back in, you’d have to ask an opposition player what it’s like.”
Yet with all of this comes a pressure on Munster to record a 24th win out of 24 in European competition at home to French opposition, and with that a 100th win in European rugby.
“It’s non-negotiable, the home wins, you’ve just go to win your home games,” says O’Mahony with deadly earnestness.
“That’s what drives you on. It’s the fear drives you on about European rugby; you have the first two games, you think you’re doing alright and then all of a sudden you’re into back-to-back Clermont,” he adds with a wry smile. “I suppose it’s the beautiful thing about this competition, how competitive it is and how it’s turned out now. It’s probably more competitive than it ever was so you have to be on your game.”
Clermont can perhaps more easily afford to swing from the hip, knowing they host Munster in the return fixture on Sunday week, and with the sides having shared home wins apiece in the 2007-08 and ’08-09 pool stages, the French outfit are one of only four sides to lead Munster in head-to-heads by dint of winning the semi-final two years ago in Montpellier. (Cardiff, Toulon and Ulster are the others.)
Hence, despite Munster recording seven wins in a row, O’Mahony admits: “I think when it comes to Clermont we have to be better all over the park. They’re just such a dangerous side coming out of their 22 on a counter attack, you name it. They’ve got guys who can punish you from all areas and we have just got to everything nailed on to be competing with these guys.”
“Clermont are a team that have always impressed me and that I’ve kept an eye on. There’s a bit of a Munsterness about them, the way they’ve come so close over the last few years and how competitive they are and obviously their home record will be something along the lines of Thomond Park as well so I’ve always enjoyed watching them and keeping an eye on them.
“I think they’re a hugely competitive team and they’re one of the sides in the French league who go after games away from home.”
Driving standardsConor MurraySimon ZeboDavid KilcoyneDave FoleyFelix Jones
“It’s a huge help, just coming back and for guys to be driving standards on here for guys to realise what it takes at an international stage. The more people you can have around coming back to the club the better so it was great to have more guys involved and hopefully we can keep driving that on. It’s the closest thing you’re going to get to it, they’re similar. As I said, French teams coming over here in the back to back games doesn’t get any bigger really.”
The provinces and Team Ireland have long since lived off each other and having identified greater representation as one of Munster’s primary goals this season, nor is Anthony Foley of a mind to bemoan any disruption, but rather to highlight the positives.
“I’m not complaining. It has an add-on effect. If you are supplying those players they are obviously playing well, we are obviously doing well in competitions so it’s important to keep that going to try and kick on and get a couple of more in there without shooting ourselves in the foot altogether. It’s important for us and it’s important for the Munster psyche that we supply players to the national side and that national side is successful.”