ON Saturday Munster face the Sharks in Durban for the second time this month, with the feeling being that this time around they are a very different animal.
They lost to this opposition just three weeks ago in the Heineken Champions Cup at the same venue, when they shipped seven tries in a resounding 50-35 defeat.
The club seemed in crisis mode, with their season seemingly petering out to its inevitable conclusion, but last week’s brilliant 24-26 victory over the Stormers has possibly reinvigorated Munster, with it potentially being the springboard they needed to challenge for league honours.
The win has effectively ensured a play-off berth, barring some freak results, but it is highly likely that the full quarter-final line-up is not set in stone until the very last game of the weekend is wrapped up.
Glasgow host Connacht after the final whistle has gone in Durban, so Munster may end up being very interested in the outcome of that game, depending on how they themselves fare, but should they secure even two match points then they will know that Connacht definitely cannot catch them and that Glasgow are going to be their quarter-final opponents. Should they get one or none then their Irish rivals can pass them out.
RG Snyman’s absence, as he follows the return to play protocols after a head knock last week, is certainly a blow, as his presence in the set pieces and mauls, as well as his brilliant offloading, were significant features of last Saturday’s win.
Cobh’s Edwin Edogbo is available again, and has the power and ballast to match the vaunted Sharks engine room, even if he is obviously still lacking in the experience stakes. Conor Murray was handed the no. 9 shirt last weekend in Cape Town, and the entire Munster machine moved much more smoothly with him directing affairs.
The Munster scrum was rock solid against what was an entire Springbok front row.
Having Snyman and Jean Kleyn behind them was obviously a help, but the returning Jeremy Loughman stepped back in seamlessly to the side, which showed just how badly he has been missed in recent months.
Given his ability to play on both sides of the scrum, and his ability to act as first receiver, he could be a Rugby World Cup squad bolter yet. Beside him, Diarmuid Barron had arguably his finest 80 minutes in a Munster shirt.
His lineout throws can often be cited as a weakness in his game, but his darts were spot on against the Stormers.
Scoring two tries at the back of destructive mauls will always grab a few headlines, but his all round game was superb, with him really putting his body on the line against the huge South African pack.
Last weekend was one of Munster’s finest victories in ages. It showed that when they are on their game they can be a match for anyone. Ending the Stormers impressive two year home winning streak was no mean feat. If Munster could do similar to the Sharks this weekend they might just start to believe in themselves, just as the URC heads into its business stage