IF Munster harbour any ambitions of securing a home quarter-final in this year’s URC then a win on Saturday over the Glasgow Warriors is an absolute must.
It seems like every game that Munster has played in the league since late November has had a must-win feel to it. Losing five of their first seven fixtures meant that Graham Rowntree’s side had very little wiggle room with respect play-off qualification as well as securing Heineken Cup rugby for next season.
To their credit they have won seven out of eight since, meaning they have climbed all the way to fifth place. As a result, the play-off and European issues are no longer the concerns they were, with the goal now being to secure a home quarter-final in this competition.
Munster will finish their regular league campaign with two difficult away ties down in South Africa next month, against the Stormers and the Sharks, but before that difficult challenge they must facedown their direct rival for the fourth spot, and the last home quarter-final berth, the Glasgow Warriors.
Glasgow finish up with two home fixtures against Scarlets and Connacht, so their run-in is definitely easier looking, but Munster do have the opportunity to leapfrog Franco Smith’s charges. The Scottish side have 49 points on the board to Munster’s 47. Even if Munster manage a 5-0 on Saturday they would probably require at least seven match-day points in their last two games should Glasgow achieve two bonus point victories in theirs. In South Africa that would be a tough ask.
Those bridges are well downstream at the moment though. Munster can only focus on the task at hand this weekend and pick up where they left off, as they look to secure their sixth straight league triumph.
In the last three of those wins the Munster attack has been absolutely purring, as they put 40 points on Benetton, 58 on the Ospreys and 49 on the Scarlets. There may have been some worries around the 30 points they shipped in Italy and the 42 that they conceded in the last game against the Scarlets, but to score 22 tries in just three games was incredibly impressive.
Of course, there was a new coaching ticket trying to bed in a new style and Munster had huge injury issues as well, but the rugby that Munster are playing now seems almost like a different sport.
The form of Shane Daly and Calvin Nash has a lot to do with this. The pair have stepped out of the shadows of the likes of Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and Andrew Conway and are now Munster’s go-to back-three players along with Mike Haley.
Antoine Frisch’s fantastic playmaking ability at outside-centre has also been a huge catalyst for Munster’s brilliant attacking play. Andy Farrell really needs to cap the former Bristol man quickly, in case he goes the way of Ben Healy.
Munster’s injury issues appear to be clearing up at just the right time to make a right push for honours over the coming months. World Cup winning second row RG Snyman made his return off the bench against the Scarlets after being out for 16 months, while the talented pair of Tom Ahern and Edwin Edogbo are fit again too. Munster shouldn’t be lacking in terms of power in the engine room going forward anyway.
The hooker stocks have not been an area of strength for Munster in recent years and Niall Scannell’s injury has compounded this. One or two more injuries here and we might see the likes of John Hodnett seeing can he throw into a lineout as well as Josh van der Flier!
While Munster’s meagre representation on the recent Grand Slam-winning Ireland team may have frustrated many down south it does mean that the Munster squad should be incredibly fresh for Saturday’s important fixture and the key run of games that will follow.
This lack of Ireland involvement may be seen as a blessing in disguise in a few months should Munster get their hands on some season-ending silverware.