MUNSTER entertain the Northampton Saints at Thomond Park on Saturday afternoon in a Heineken Champions Cup clash that will more than likely decide whether Munster secure a last 16 spot in the competition or not.
With a trip to Toulouse next up, Graham Rowntree’s side know that a failure at home to the side they beat 6-17 at Franklin’s Gardens in December will have them on the brink of elimination.
Trying to predict the final finishing places in Pool B seems a pointless task at this juncture given that six sides have five points after two rounds, with these teams filling positions fourth to ninth in the table.
Munster are one of these, currently in sixth spot. Of course, only eight will qualify.
Last year eight points was enough to get you out of Pool A, while a mere seven points was enough to emerge from Pool B.
It might take nine or ten this around, but one win will probably do it for Munster, with Saturday being the most winnable of the two that Munster have left.
The other points total to look at from last year is to examine what it took to finish in the top four.
This did not matter last year, as the last 16 was a two-legged round, but as that has been done away with this year, and it’s now a one-off kill or be killed round, a top four finishing position gets you a home last 16 tie, so those spots are much sought after this time around.
Last year fifteen and seventeen points were the numbers necessary to come in fourth spot in Pools A and B, respectively.
Munster came third in Pool B last year with eighteen points, but this year they are stuck on five, so fifteen is as high as they can possibly go, and that’s assuming they get five points in Toulouse.
Therefore, regardless of what Munster do that home quarter-final looks a long shot.
Toulouse can then be bonus territory stuff, but more than likely if they don’t win in France they will probably have as tough a match in the next round, on the road.
The one conclusion that we can take from looking at the table is that Northampton have surely thrown their hat at the competition already given that they are rock bottom, stuck on zero points.
With a trip to Limerick and the visit of La Rochelle to round off their campaign, they would require two incredibly unlikely victories to progress.
This should impact on their motivation and make Munster’s life a tad more comfortable.
Munster’s form has definitely seen a considerable upturn since the return to club action after the November internationals.
They have won five out of seven, with the two defeats being two narrow home defeats to Toulouse and Leinster.
The dressing room certainly seems a happier place now than it was back in October.
The injury crisis in the second row has the likes of Jean Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne currently working overtime at the coalface.
Hopefully Fineen Wycherley and Edwin Edogbo can return in the coming weeks to give them a reprieve, but right now they will have to carry the burden in the Munster engine room.
Knocks to Diarmuid Barron and Josh Wycherley, picked up in last weekend’s victory over the Emirates Lions, threaten to further stretch Munster’s squad strength, but ultimately given both team’s respective motivations for this one, Munster should have enough in hand, and get the victory that all but puts them in the last 16.
M Haley; C Nash, A Frisch, J Crowley, S Daly; J Carbery, C Casey; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, R Salanoa; J Kleyn, T Beirne; J O’Donoghue, P O’Mahony (c), G Coombes.
S Buckley, J Wycherley, J Ryan, J Hodnett, A Kendellen, P Patterson, R Scannell, L Coombes.