I DON'T really know how Munster rugby has arrived at this point and nor do I really care. I guess the only thing that is important now is that they have arrived and their faith lies fully within their own hands.
Within their own hands, Yes! The players of Munster are not looking for any favours from anyone. The next chapter is theirs to pen and as a coach or a player, you can ask for little more.
Over the last few months this group of players and coaches have somehow defied the laws of sporting logic and now history has no option but to portray them as heroes, no matter how the scoreboard reads tomorrow when the final whistle is sounded.
Welded together by a collective and poignant purpose that manifested itself with the heart-breaking passing of Anthony Foley back in October, the on-field resolve of this squad is only hours away from facing its biggest test to date.
The next challenge now for this fearless pride of players is to find the balance somewhere between rage and serenity and focus it in such a way that they can drain every last drop of positive valour it produces.
In order to defeat this Saracens side whom by the way are also fully deserving participants in this semi-final, Munster are going to have to play their best rugby of the last three years.
Tomorrow’s game will represent the English sides fifth straight consecutive semi-final in a row and that is a statistic that doesn’t just happen by chance. They are also unbeaten in their last sixteen Champions Cup games (W15, D1), and only Leinster have gone on a longer unbeaten streak in the competition however, it pails in comparison when you consider that tomorrow’s game will represent Munster’s 12th appearance in a European Cup semi-final.
Former Ulster and Irish international Mark McCall and his team have had to suffer many years of heartache before they finally got their hands on the holy grail of European cup rugby and as defending champions it is going to take one mighty effort to lever it away from them.
Saracens defeated Racing 92 in last years final and did so without having to shift beyond fourth gear.
Just like Munster, Saracens too had to lose in a final before they managed to win one and because of this they now know what it takes to be successful in a European cauldron.
I am in no way writing off Munster’s chances however, the task that lies ahead is one that could take more than what they have left in the tank albeit, no one truly knows what is remaining.
Saracens play a brand of rugby that is defined by the principles that govern the modern game and they have an off loading style that is virtually impossible to stop if it gets in behind the first line of defence.
If you filter through McCall’s squad from one to 22, you will be confronted with a catalogue of players where there is little scope to find any individual weaknesses.
Their set piece is strong and efficient and their ability to make breaks and finish them off is a sight to behold with players like Chris Ashton, Owen Farrell and Marcelo Bosch all capable of penetrating the tightest of defensive structures.
Up front Munster must deal with the likes of the Vunipola brothers who between them weigh in at just under a staggering 410lbs or 250kgs, either way I wouldn’t like the cost of feeding any them, or for that matter trying to stop them.
George Kruis is also another player Munster will have to look out for tomorrow, especially in the line-out.
Kruis who has just returned from a knee injury last week has incredibly secured a spot on Warren Gatland’s touring party after a twelve-week stint on the side line. Match fitness will obliviously be a concern for McCall however he will still have a serious impact on how this game pans out.
As I stated in the opening paragraph, I don’t fully understand how Munster have got to this point but from now on everything changes.
If this game was to be played in Thomond Park, I would be as happy as a pig in shite, but it is not and whilst it will still be viewed as a home game, the sixteenth man will not have the same impact as normal. I’m sure their manic presence will still nurture the players in times of need but in games like this, it is going to take a lot more than that to win.
Every single player who is lucky enough to make it on to the Aviva’s playing surface tomorrow is going to have to go to dark places and find something exclusive. Something that is only present in moments of incredible pressure.
Not only will they have to give their usual display of unadulterated courage but they are also going to have to be shrewd and think outside the box of conformity.
Conor Murray if present, must direct the traffic he finds in front of him to soak up the Saracens defensive systems and C.J Stander must not be left to carry every ball into contact.
Tyler Bleyendaal who has been incredible this season will need to keep his forwards always on the front foot and do so with a level of composure that would rival that of Johnny Sexton or Ronan O’Gara.
It will also be imperative that Simon Zebo and Keith Earls go looking for the ball more often than they normally do. I’m not saying they are lazy but they must be prepared to leave their posts more frequently than usual and trust their fellow players to cover them. Both these players were unlucky not to be named in Gatland’s squad and have points to prove.
This season will be remembered for many reasons.
Some of these reasons will be happy and some very sad however, wouldn’t it be an incredible moment in Irish sporting history if both Munster and Leinster found themselves lining out in Murrayfield on the 13th of May at five pm.
Dreams can come true and nice guys can win!