Rassie Erasmus admitted his Munster team will have no excuses if they become the first home team to lose a Guinness PRO12 semi-final this Saturday.
MUNSTER V OSPREYS
Saturday: Thomond Park, 6.15pm
TV: Sky Sports
Fourth seeds Ospreys travel to Thomond Park to face the regular season league table toppers hoping to become the first side in competition history to win a PRO12 semi on the road.
Munster have history, form and now fitness on their side given the return to action of Ireland and Lions scrum-half Conor Murray and a green light for fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal to resume training following a bicep injury scare. Even rookie wing Alex Wootton’s hamstring injury is not as bad as first feared, leaving director of rugby Erasmus with, by his own admission, very little to complain about.
“It is very good, and probably if I say anything I’d be looking for something to moan about,” Erasmus said. “I guess the only thing we’d be a little bit concerned about is match fitness or sharpness of Conor and Tyler together, Rory (Scannell) hasn’t been playing a lot of the last few weeks, so it’s nice to have a fit squad.
“I won’t moan about that but to try and find the balance between fitness, match sharpness, form, those kind of things. The team selection is more a bit of having to get it spot on because we are playing against a team that are hitting form at the right time.”
Ensuring the growing external expectation doesn’t infiltrate the Munster camp is one of the South African’s biggest jobs this week.
“The expectation is there. You can’t hide away from the expectation and the reality is we have the same expectation to try and beat them and try and win the competition.
“We know there are three other teams who have got exactly the same expectations. I only heard the stat two weeks again that no semi-final home team has every lost a semi-final. Maybe if I didn’t know the pressure would have been a little bit less.
“I’m sure Wayne (Pivac, head coach of Scarlets, away semi-finalists at Leinster) and Steve (Tandy, Ospreys head coach) and those guys will say listen, if we turn that around then that stat means absolutely nothing because we would be the first team to change that.
“The way we play and the way we plan for the game shouldn’t be influenced by pressure. It always does a little bit, but it shouldn’t be, and we should try and overcome that... We don’t have an excuse.
“We have played all these teams in the PRO12, it is not like we are a newcomer in Europe and we haven’t played Saracens or Toulouse. It will be tough, but we have played these teams before and we should be in with a good chance. But they will believe exactly the same.”
Munster player of the year Bleyendaal had presented with a bicep injury after the 50-14 victory over Connacht on May 6, having come off the bench for the injured Wootton six minutes after half-time and Erasmus said both players had benefited from the break.
“Injury wise it is looking good, obviously we had the 14-day turnaround after not qualifying for the finals of Europe and that helped us in a way. Otherwise I thought Tyler Bleyendaal would have been doubtful if it was last week, but we are expecting him to train today.
“And even Alex Wootton with his hamstring, which I thought would be a longish term injury, it looked for me, but that’s why I’m not medically qualified and I shouldn’t make conclusions like that. It looks like he might be able to train Tuesday or Wednesday.
“Otherwise, apart from the other injuries, like Ronan (O’Mahony, broken leg), Dave O’Callaghan (knee), those guys there is no new fresh injuries. So yes, that looks good.”
Whether Murray is ready to start after just 28 minutes off the bench against Connacht in his first action since March 10, remains the question for Munster, although Erasmus continues to have every confidence in Duncan Williams’s ability to fill the breach at starting scrum-half.
“Duncan has done a tremendous job for us. I’ve said it a few times, out of all these games Duncan has played the most and we’ve managed to top the table with Duncan playing and at other stages - when Tyler was injured - with Ian Keatley next to him and then Rory (Scannell) at 10, Duncan has managed all those.
“But if you make the Lions squad and you’re rated as one of the best nines in the world, you would be stupid not to give the guy his... because he’s 100% fit but he’s just not 100% match sharp. Hopefully he is Superman and he comes good on Saturday, so we will pick him.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved