IN a very strange, challenging and what seems to be a neverending season, Munster find themselves in another do or die scenario as they prepare to welcome Cardiff to the spiritual confines of Thomond Park.
I guess you could argue that it is not a bad situation to be in when you are constantly thumping on the doors of knockout rugby, albeit there comes a point when you can only knock so much before your efforts are completely dishonoured and you end up looking like a side that are all huff and no puff.
Two weekends ago Munster fell fowl to a Connacht outfit that was prepared to put their bodies on the line in order to revitalise their medal-winning hopes and in doing so, opened the prospects of reaching the final of this Rainbow Cup to five other teams.
Up to that point, Munster were firmly in the driving seat, but now they find themselves in a dogfight and even if they manage to win their remaining two games, it still may not be enough to reach the final of this somewhat meaningless competition.
With only one team to emerge from the two pools, Benetton are the only side that have their destiny in their own hands.
Having won their three previous games, the Italian minnows find themselves sitting at the top of the table with Munster, Leinster, The Ospreys, Glasgow, Connacht, and Cardiff having each won two out of their three, which means that from here on, it’s knockout rugby with zero room for error and every point scored or conceded could be the deciding factor when the tallies are totalled.
Normally, the arrival of Cardiff or any of the Welsh regions to Thomond Park would not be an issue, however, after the implosion against the men from the west, Johann van Graan must be quivering in his boots, realising that another loss to a team of much lesser attributes would leave him in a very precarious position.
Coaching is probably one of the hardest and loneliest jobs in the world and while I do have sympathy for this current coaching ticket, that compassion is almost completely exhausted at this stage.
If van Grann, Stephen Larkham, and Graham Rowntree, as a coaching unit, cannot come up with a strategy to beat teams like Connacht and Cardiff, then how in god’s name will they ever get back to realistically feasting at the top table with Europe’s elite?
After watching last weekend’s Champions Cup final between La Rochelle and Toulouse, part of me was delighted that Munster were not out there.
As a spectacle, the game failed to live up to its hype and it proved once again that rugby union is heading down a very dangerous road where 6’ 10” goliaths, weighing 140kgs are given the ball and told run as hard and straight as you can.
I do not think that is how the game was designed to be played, but that is what you get when winning becomes more important than entertainment and more time is spent in the gym and working on defence rather than, skills and vision.
Apart from one moment of brilliance from Toulouse’s Romain Ntamack whose sublime pass led to the game-winning try, it was like watching a game of bulldog where all the massive south sea islanders took turns at running at each other in order to cross the gain line.
I think what everybody had expected was a game of free-flowing and risk-taking rugby that has become synonymous with how the French play, but sadly that never materialised.
World Rugby, Sky television and the EPRC marketers do a great job of dressing up this competition, but if they don’t take drastic actions now to make the game something other than a diluted version of Rugby League, they will lose television viewing figures and more importantly the grassroots participants.
Cardiff’s last two outings were one-point win against their local rivals, the Dragons and the Llanelli Scarlets, so they seem to be battle-hardened and with Connacht doing them and others a massive favour by beating Munster, they have a realistic chance to end their season on a high.
The absence of Conor Murray and Chris Farrell may not be as bad as it seems because their replacements will be very hungry to impress and with the return of Gavin Coombes to the backrow, Munster will have more than enough firepower to quell anything that Cardiff could ever throw at them.
This game is 100% about attitude for Munster and if there was ever a game where the dressing mindset was going to be a deciding factor, this is it.
Run on to the field like they did against Connacht just expecting things to happen, and then you know what will hit the fan. Run on to the field with a view that every inch must be fought for, and Munster will win with a bonus point.
It is really as simple as that.
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