CONNACHT against Munster is not exactly the fixture that gets the heart rate soring, however, considering the results from last weekend and the imminent resumption of the Heineken Champions Cup, both sides have plenty of arguments to put forward as to why they need to win this game.
Just when we were all getting used to watching Leinster trashing anyone who dared to challenge them, up pops good auld Connacht with a performance that William Wallace himself would be proud of.
Not only did Andy Friend’s players put it up to Leinster in their own back garden they completely outplayed them and showed everyone else what needs to be done in order to gain the upper hand.
Hunting everything in a blue jersey like ravished dogs, Connacht showed zero respect for their opponents recent run of 26-match PRO14 victories and even managed to bag themselves a four try bonus point. To beat Leinster is good, but to do it in the RDS and with a bonus point is the stuff fairy tails are made from.
We need to be mindful that it was not the strongest side that Leo Cullen could have put forward, but such is Leinster’s strength in depth they really don’t have weak players and had no excuse to offer in the aftermath, other than they were second best in all that they offered.
With Connacht having narrowly lost both their European Cup pool games their hopes of reaching the knock out stages of this year’s blue-ribbon competition are dead in the water, so all their attention is now focused on salvaging something via the Guinness Pro 14.
Currently the Westerners find themselves in second position behind Munster in their conference league table and a win tomorrow would narrow that lead to just four points which is not the cushion that Johann van Graan would like to be sitting on.
When you play against Connacht it is like playing against a team who have a grudge against the world and this is especially pronounced when you have the pleasure of playing them in Galway.
Connacht have always felt like the poor relation when it comes to the pecking order within the I.R.F.U and they react to this by playing like a squad who have just all been stung in the ass by a swarm of bees.
Sometimes they go about their business with no structure as to what they are doing and just play with a heads-up mentality, which as it was last week not a bad way to go about your business.
The problem with this is that when things don’t exactly go their way with the 50/50 decisions, they have nothing solid to fall back on and that’s normally when their entire defensive capabilities come crashing down to earth.
On the flip side when they do get the rub of the green, they are the worst side in the world to play against and just never give up.
As soon as you deal with one player there is another three eyeballing you and they have this kind of demonic gawk in their eyes that tells you that you are going to be sore when you wake up in the morning.
With the commencement of the Six Nations just under a month away the Irish coaching ticket will be walking that fine line between having their players primed and ready for action and keeping them fit and healthy.
I’m sure both van Graan and Friend would like to have their strongest players on show for this game however, their hands are often tied by the higher powers and it will be very interesting to see who starts and how long the recognised internationals will be allowed play.
In one hand this kind of curtailment makes a mockery of the fixture, but on the other it makes complete sense. I guess it all depends on which side of the fence you are operating from and which master you are serving.
Just like Leinster last weekend, Munster also ended up relinquishing their unbeaten run when they travelled to Ulster and despite playing with a second-string side, they could have still won the game.
In the end they just gave their hosts that little bit too much respect in the opening quarter and didn’t have the required bulk that was required when the try line came within sniffing distance.
I can only imagine that there won’t be a whole pile of last week’s team starting in tomorrow’s game because with Clermont arriving at the gates of Thomond park next weekend and looking to avenge their embarrassing implosion of a few weeks ago, the Munster coaching ticket will want their strongest fifteen gaining as much game time as possible.
I wouldn’t have thought that a full-strength Connacht side would be able to deal with a full-strength Munster outfit albeit, if Jack Carty could replicate some of the form he produced against Leinister and Bundee Aki were allowed start and finish the game, Munster could easily find themselves embarking in a dog fight of sorts.
Starting slow is simply not an option Munster can entertain for this kind of tie because if you give a side like Connacht any bit of momentum, they will build on it and their confidence will become insufferable.
I’d settle for a win of any kind on this occasion, especially against a Connacht side that is bursting with confidence and is playing on its’ own turf.