DON’T be fooled by all the hype.
While it is always nice to win something, the United Rugby Championship is at very best a B competition in the greater scheme of things.
For sure, Munster and Ulster need a bit of silverware but it’s like teams celebrating after they’ve avoided relegation, especially those whose only goal at the start of the season is to remain in the same league.
After last week’s powerful display of raw and brutally honest rugby between La Rochelle and Leinster, I think that every ball that is carried, every tackle that is made, and every try that is scored between now and the end of the season will be colourless in comparison.
Perhaps Ireland’s three-match summer tour to New Zealand might push us to the edge of our seats once. The effort of the victorious and worthy French team last weekend, along with Leinster, will be hard to top though.
Every hit could be felt and the uncontrollable emotions that all the players, coaching staff and supporters showed at the final whistle was something that I haven’t seen for a very long time. Well done to both sides and thank you for restoring some of the true values of rugby union that have been lost over the last decade.
Believe it or not, part of me wants Munster to be put out of their misery against Ulster which will allow the rebuilding process for next year’s assault on regaining their European crown to commence.
The last thing that these players need now is another embarrassing and mentally debilitating loss to comprehend over the summer months.
A player’s fitness and physical strength can easily be fixed, but the mind is a completely different challenge.
Unless the players of Munster approach next season with a very clear understanding of what they need to do and the lengths they must push themselves, we’ll be looking for a whole new pile of excuses yet again.
This may seem like a strange statement coming from a person who would do anything to play one more game for Munster, but it’s how I feel.
I would rather bow out now and not have any more mental anguish to carry forward should the province find themselves at the wrong end of another debilitating result.
I have no doubt that Munster can leave the Kingspan Stadium with a victory however, it’s the next two games that I’d really be worried about.
Whoever wins this quarter-final, their reward will be a semi-final away to either the Stormers in South Africa or Edinburgh in Scotland in a week.
If you manage to negotiate that hurdle, you will more than likely be facing a Leinster side that will have so much pain to exhale, I doubt any side on the planet would be able to contain them.
The last thing Munster need is another loss to Leinster to add to their already worrying sequence!
The good news for Munster is that they could be very close to full strength for this game with Tadgh Beirne, Andrew Conway, Peter O’Mahony, Jean Kleyn, Neil Cronin, Craig Casey, Stephen Archer, Damian de Allende and Simon Zebo all deemed fit earlier in the week.
Ulster, on the other hand, are in a slightly different place with regards to momentum and while they failed to qualify for the knockout stages of Europe, they are riding somewhat of a wave of resurgence and home advantage could well hold the key to them progressing.
The two players that Munster must stop in their tracks tonight are the South African World Cup winner Duane Vermeulen and Irish international scrum-half John Cooney.
Vermeulen is probably one of the most effective ball-carrying battering rams the game has ever produced and his appetite for work is just ravenous.
Cooney also has an immense lust for work and often pops up on the end of a try-scoring pass because of his ability to read his fellow players’ lines of running.
Whoever wins this game will have a long road ahead of them and their reward may not be filled with joy and celebration.