Munster can’t take their foot off the pedal at the business end of the year

Munster can’t take their foot off the pedal at the business end of the year
Andrew Conway of Munster is tackled by Jaco van der Walt and Chris Dean of Edinburgh. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

THE big games just keep on coming.

Saturday saw Munster Rugby grind out an excellent Edinburgh side away from home in Murrayfield in the last eight of the Heineken Champions Cup.

It was a big game, with high stakes. Tonight’s match against the Cardiff Blues might not seem to have the same billing but it’s as important in its own way when it comes to how Conference A ends up this season.

The PRO14 is very much at the business end of the season and what happens before the upcoming game against Saracens will define how the end of Munster’s season looks.

Last year, Munster had a tough end to the season from a logistical perspective that, not to make it an excuse, has an effect on performance whether we like it or not.

In the build-up to the away semi-final in Bordeaux against Racing 92, Munster had a two-week tour to South Africa and then more or less game a week thereafter until finally ending the season in the defeat to Leinster in the RDS on the 19th of May.

The only break was the week of the Heineken Cup final after the quarter-final win over Edinburgh and before the PRO14 semi-final.

Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Between the 7th of April 2018 and the 19th of May 2018, Munster had six games in seven weeks and racked up a tonne of air miles in the process.

Ideally, this time around, Munster want to avoid at least one of those games - the home PRO14 quarter-final - to give themselves the best chance at competing on both fronts.

To get that home quarter-final you need to finish top of your conference and, well, that’s where tonight comes in.

To have a chance of catching current Conference A leaders Glasgow, who are facing Ulster in Scotstoun in this round, Munster have to win against Cardiff.

If Ulster can do Munster a favour and - ideally - beat Glasgow without conceding a losing bonus point, a win for the Iron Legion in Musgrave Park tonight could see Munster head into the final two games of the season with a one-point lead.

With Glasgow having to travel to the RDS to play Leinster next week and then play against an Edinburgh side in Scotstoun that they haven’t beaten all season, it sets up a nice end to the season for Munster.

But beating Cardiff will be the thing. The Blues have had the last few weeks off.

Their Grand Slam stars - Anscombe, Navidi - and their other top guys like Morgan, Lane, Lee-Lo, (Nick) Williams and Halaholo have been twiddling their thumbs since their last game two weeks ago, where they beat the Scarlets out the gate.

I’d expect most of the squad that took the field that day to take the field in Musgrave Park and, to put it mildly, it won’t be easy.

When Munster played the Blues at the start of this season over in Cardiff, the Southern Province were on the wrong end of an almighty pumping and, to top it off, they’re the last team to beat Munster in Cork.

So to say that a result is both badly wanted and needed is to state the obvious.

There’s a small bit of needle between these two sides and that’ll play out in front of another expected sellout in Cork this evening.

From Munster’s perspective, nothing less than a win will do.

We’re at the stage of the season when the usual rules of a bit of wiggle room of a loss here or there are out the window.

Munster need points and, in reality, they need Glasgow to slip up between now and the end of the season. That’s what the disappointing loss in Llanelli cost.

So it’s no days off, no handy rest weeks - bar a Glasgow collapse in the next two games - and all guns blazing until the end of the season.

The goal is one more knockout game in both the PRO14 and Heineken Cup before, with a fair wind, a final in both competitions.

If Munster can beat a Cardiff side with playoff ambitions of their own tonight, they’ll be a long way towards achieving that goal.

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