David Corkery on Munster v South Africa: Hosts face a daunting task in Páirc Uí Chaoimh

A sell-out crowd shows the interest in high-profile events by the Lee
David Corkery on Munster v South Africa: Hosts face a daunting task in Páirc Uí Chaoimh

Munster head coach Graham Rowntree and Edwin Edogbo, who faces South Africa tonight. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

WHEN Graham Rowntree first learned about Munster playing against South Africa many months ago, he thought it would be a fantastic opportunity for his players to lock horns and gain invaluable experience against the world champions.

When this historical game against South Africa in the hallowed grounds of Páirc Uí Chaoimh was confirmed, the blazers of Munster were full of excitement at the prospect of adding another international scalp to their already impressive collection. However, at that stage they had no idea that the squad would be completely decimated by injuries.

Also, not in their wildest dreams did they think they would be lying third from the bottom in the United Rugby Championship table and fighting to remain in the Heineken Champions Cup.

If you had asked Rowntree two weeks ago would he like to play South Africa, I think he would have told you where you could shove that suggestion.

Rowntree’s priority now is to get Munster moving up the URC league table and assure the province of a European Cup spot.

If Munster are were to be relegated to the second tier of European rugby, not only would it be a catastrophe for the 16th man, it would also have a big impact on their finances.

MAGICAL

I don’t want to take anything away from tonight’s magical occasion, however, when South Africa leave the Rebel County and move on to Italy, who they play next in their European tour, Munster must get back to the nuts and bolts of their season and prepare for the visit of Connacht to Thomond Park.

The one good thing that is on their side is that they have a two-week recovery period because if the blunt force brutality of last Saturday’s test is anything to go by, their injury list is going to grow and that is the last thing the province needs now.

For the players who will get the opportunity to represent Munster in this game, it will be a very special occasion and a chance for them to engrave their names in Munster’s folklore.

This will be the fourth time these sides have met and never have the men in red on.

On two occasions, 1951 and 1960, they came close, and the third game, in 1970, ended in a heavy defeat.

So, for these fortunate players, they must realise that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the chances of it coming around again are very small.

Last Saturday I was at the test game and I was lucky enough to have had a seat four rows back from the side-line and for the first time in my life, I was happy to be sitting on the other side of the advertising hoardings.

To say that this Springboks squad is gigantic is putting it rather mildly and some of the hits from both sides resembled the sound you would get if you hit a hanging carcass as hard as you could with the boss of a hurley.

The thud of flesh on flesh that reverberates when two finely-honed rugby professionals hit each other head-on is something that will live with you forever and considering Munster’s die-at-all-costs mentality, and a very resentful South Africa arriving on the back of Saturday’s defeat, I think the surface of the Páirc, as well as the 41,400 sell-out crowd, will be in for one hell of an experience.

This game will represent the largest attendance at a rugby game in the province and while many GAA advocates were not in favour of the game going ahead, there were far more who were and I’d love to think that the oval ball will be seen on the banks of the Lee very soon again.

REPUTATION

The tourists took the unusual opportunity to name their team on Monday and from the looks of their side which contains 14 fully capped Springboks, they are judging Munster on reputation rather than form.

Maybe the Boks are deploying scare tactics by naming their side that early in the week; whatever their reason, I can tell you that it will send shivers down the spine of Rowntree and his coaching ticket.

Ireland's Peter O'Mahony wins a line-out against South Africa. 
Ireland's Peter O'Mahony wins a line-out against South Africa. 

Rowntree, who is already short on front row quality will have had to prepare his pack to scrum down against the vastly experienced trio of Du Toit, Ntuthuko Mchunu and Joseph Dweba who have all played international rugby at the highest level.

Aphelele Fassi, Cornal Hendriks, Johan Goosen, and Herschel Jantjies are the capped Boks in the backline and if these kind of players are allowed time and space to run with the ball, Munster’s defensive line will be in for a very busy night.

For some of the Munster side who have ambitions of making next year’s World Cup squad, this game will give them another chance to impress Andy Farrell, who will be there in person.

Munster rugby may not be in a good place, but they thrive on having the underdog tag pinned to their dressing room door and if the weather turns out to be nasty, that will somewhat even out the playing surface.

If I was Rowntree, a respectable scoreline and a small injury list would be a good night at the office.

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