FORGET about the permutations of who is going to finish second, third, fourth, fifth, or sixth; forget about who is playing who; forget about who is leaving or who is joining next year; this is a game that Munster have no choice but to win.
Two weeks ago Munster played a Toulouse side that, on paper, should have blown Peter O’Mahony and his fellow players back down the M7, but sport isn’t played on paper and the envisaged slaughter didn’t happen and were it not for some very silly mistakes Munster should have won the game.
In the end, the French juggernauts just managed to squeeze past the finishing line after a farcical penalty shoot-out when the sides could not be separated after 100 minutes of gut-busting and inspiring rugby.
Toulouse’s reward for winning that game was a showdown with Leinster seven days later in the same venue and considering how conclusively the Leinster men won that game, in some respects, I am glad that Munster lost because I think it would have killed me to see Leinster destroy the men in red.
There is a small possibility that Munster would have put up a sterner fight because of the derby factor, however, considering the tank-emptying efforts that both Toulouse and Munster displayed seven days earlier, one week’s rest was never going to be enough time to prepare to challenge the best club side in the world and the result speaks for itself (40-17) and the scary thing is that the margin of victory could have been greater.
Leinster now find themselves becoming victims of their own success and have no choice but to prioritise the European Cup final which takes place eight days from today.
Leo Cullen who has brilliantly built Leinster into some kind of ruthless winning machine has the task of calling upon his so-called second-string players in tomorrow’s final game of the United Rugby Championship season, and this is why I am so adamant that Munster must win this game and do so in a fashion that suggests that the mammoth display of bravery they showed against Toulouse was not a flash in the pan.
Both sides have qualified for the knockout stages of this competition with Leinster sitting top of the pool which assures them a home tie in the quarter-final as well as a possible home semi-final and final. Their job in this competition is done for now.
Munster, on the other hand, are in need of a good result to ensure they too have a home quarter-final and a possible home semi-final.
Their job is not done, and they must first come to terms with the mental challenge before they even think about the physical one if they are to turn the current tide of dismay that has loomed large over the province for over a decade.
Johann van Graan, who is entering the twilight of his time as the Munster gaffer, will unquestionably play his strongest available side and if the unthinkable were to happen; that Munster were to fall at the hands of Leinster’s B team it would set the province back even further in their quest to regain the dominance they once held in Irish rugby.
It is very hard to appreciate how Leinster can rest their entire starting 15 from last week’s game and still be in a position to compete against Munster’s strongest team. It just baffles me as to how the gap has been allowed to grow to this level over the last 10 years.
I fully realise that Leinster might have a greater supply of raw materials through their schools systems, but I can tell you the work that the Munster schools are doing is equal if not greater than those who feed the Leinster conveyor belt.
So where has it all gone wrong?
I realise that great sides have high and low periods throughout their history, just look at Manchester United as an example and how they have fallen from the dizzy heights from where once they plied their trade, however, I am not putting this forward as an excuse.
Someone in authority has taken their eye off the ball and as far as I can see no one has been held accountable.
I know that if Munster were a business where there were shareholders waiting for dividends to be paid out, heads would have rolled a very long time ago.
My hope is that the new coaching regime will change Munster’s fortunes, but for now, all that is important is the next 80 minutes of rugby and a convincing victory against our greatest rivals would go a long way to reinforcing the view that Munster rugby is finally starting to see beyond a corner that seemed to be never-ending.
I guess time will tell all.