MUNSTER secured a place in the semi-final of the URC last weekend with one of their great hard-fought away victories against the Glasgow Warriors, but at what cost?
That victory was an impressive one, given the Warriors' lengthy 17-game unbeaten streak at Scotstoun, but ultimately it appears to be a pyrrhic one now, given the simply ridiculous number of injuries sustained on the night by Munster players.
Peter O’Mahony, RG Snyman and Conor Murray were gone by half time, while Diarmuid Barron joined them on the sideline soon after the restart, and to add salt to these many wounds, Calvin Nash and Malakai Fekitoa had to depart late on, joining Snyman and Murray on the failed HIA list. O'Mahony and Barron are named to face Leinster at 5.30pm in the Aviva on Saturday evening but the rest are out.
Most Munster fans were probably immediately reminded of Ireland’s victory over France in the 2015 World Cup, which was overshadowed by the fact that they knew they had to play Argentina in the quarter-final without Paul O’Connell, Jonathan Sexton, Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien, such was the cost of that victory.
M Haley; K Earls, A Frisch, J Crowley, S Daly; B Healy, C Casey; J Loughman, D Barron, S Archer; J Kleyn, T Beirne; P O’Mahony, J Hodnett, G Coombes.
N Scannell, J Wycherley, R Salanoa, F Wycherley, J O’Donoghue, N Cronin, R Scannell, A Kendellen.
J O’Brien; T O’Brien, R Henshaw, C Ngatai, D Kearney; H Byrne, L McGrath; M Milne, R Kelleher, M Ala’alatoa; R Baird, J Jenkins; M Deegan, W Connors, J Conan.
J McKee, C Healy, T Clarkson, J McCarthy, J van der Flier, N McCarthy, C Frawley, L Turner.
Ultimately, Ireland were not able to survive without all those players, and one senses that whatever chances Munster had of scalping Leinster at the Aviva Stadium in Saturday’s semi-final have also been greatly decreased by their crippling-looking injury list.
To have any hope of beating Leinster the Munster scrum will have to hold their own, as if Munster keep conceding penalties Leinster will strangle them, by going down the line and using their devastating maul to wear them down, as they do to every side.
They tend to pummel away until the referee is forced to issue yellow cards for persistent infringements, and there is no better side in European club rugby than Leinster to capitalise on having a numerical advantage.
The perfect illustration of this was Leinster’s Champions Cup semi-final triumph over Toulouse.
They scored two Jack Conan tries in the ten-minute spell when Toulouse full-back Thomas Ramos was in the sin-bin in the first half, and conceded a third the moment he returned.
Then in the second half, prop Rodrigue Neti was binned for making contact with the head of Josh van der Flier, and once again Leinster produced the power play, to score two tries in the period Toulouse were down to 14.
This has been the formula in almost every Leinster win this season. They win penalty after penalty and keep squeezing and mauling until they either score or get their opposition reduced to fourteen.
Last Saturday’s highly attritional encounter in Glasgow will have been great preparation in this regard as for the entire opening quarter Munster had to withstand Glasgow throwing everything at them.
The Glasgow maul had been a huge weapon for them in their scintillating form since Christmas, but the Munster defensive line would not budge an inch.
Munster will have to do the same on Saturday, and they know exactly what is coming their way, even if Leinster will be resting a few of their mainliners for the Champions Cup final rematch against Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle, but having to resist these Leinster waves without Saturday night’s injured bunch will take some doing.
Munster fans would have loved to have seen their side go at Leinster with a full hand to play with, but it was not to be.
The injury list means that Munster are probably without more first-choice players than Leinster, and we all know how well Leinster’s supposed second-string have been performing this season.
In saying that, Graham Rowntree’s side go into this one with little expectation, and the recent unbeaten run on the road against the Stormers, the Sharks and Glasgow mean the confidence is up, with them having a punchers chance of downing Leinster on Saturday evening.