Last Sunday’s journey down the yellow brick road to the U Arena may have produced some dazzling rugby but there will be a lot to be said for a return to the great outdoors of Thomond Park, writes rugby correspondent Simon Lewis.
The transition to Thomond Park today at 1pm - in a bid to reach the quarter-finals - in front of a fanatical crowd and a grass pitch will be a big boost to Munster.
From the giant screen at one end and the subdued atmosphere from the other three sides, there was a Wizard of Oz-like quality to the goings on under the roof of Racing 92’s new state of the art indoor arena.
The travelling supporters were not in Munster anymore, that was certain and if the perfect but sterile conditions on the 4G playing surface produced some excellent running rugby from Johann van Graan’s side, some of the bounces off the artificial pitch denied them vital points and brought frustration that they came home from Paris with only a losing bonus point.
Thomond will be rocking on Sunday for our must-win Champions Cup clash against Top 14 high-flyers Castres!
Look forward to seeing you there!January 18, 2018
So take a big breath, suck in a lungful of that Limerick air and be grateful for the home comforts that come with the transition back to Thomond Park with its roaring crowd and a sticky grass pitch that has been soaking up rain all week.
Even attack coach Felix Jones, whose backs produced some scintillating scores in defeat to Racing last weekend and could be forgiven for wishing his players could play on 4G every week, knows which side Munster’s bread is buttered.
“I love that!” Jones said this week of the prospect of tomorrow’s conditions and a chance to tap in once more to the province’s DNA. “I think it will be a long time before we see a 4G pitch in Thomond Park.
“Last week was a great experience and 4Gs are coming more and more into it, that’s just part of how the game is going, players are adapting to it and it’s no longer a major deal.
“But Thomond, this is why this stadium was built, to house these European Cup games where Munster need to win to qualify for the quarter-finals.
“If you were to ask any of our guys to be put in this position, where would you want to play it, I think every single person would say Thomond Park.”
Standing on top of Pool 4 a point ahead of Racing, who must go to Leicester Tigers for the same kick-off time tomorrow, a victory of any size or shape will send Munster into the knockout rounds of European competition for a record 17th time.
Yet they face a Castres side which is now also in the hunt for a last-eight berth thanks to their 39-0 demolition of Leicester in France last weekend and memories of last October’s 17-17 round one meeting at Stade Pierre-Fabre have not slipped from Jones’ mind.
“Being totally honest, I think we should have lost it,” the Munster assistant coach said. “I don’t think we executed our plan as well as we would have liked over there.
"Even the penalty at the end (missed by Castres’ Benjamin Urdapilleta in the 77th minute to win the game), I think they deserved to win the game.
“Saying that, it could have gone either way but if you ask me was it one that got away from us, my honest opinion is it was one we got away with.”
Jones does not buy into the perception that Castres will pose little threat away from home.
“I don’t see it. Some French teams you can apply that to but watching Castres this year, regardless of their results, you get a feel for their work-rate, their attitude and how they work for each other, I see them as being a major challenge.
“For those who don’t watch French rugby, they are an in-form side in the Top14. They’re right in it in a battle for third, fourth and fifth spot and they play Racing after us in the league next week.
“I think people sometimes assume French teams can sometimes be disinterested or unfit or have other faults but Castres don’t fit that.
"They’re fit and they fight, teams will make a breach against them and they will fight for every inch and chase that guy into a corner and drag him down just before the line.
"Even on the weekend, I think Leicester’s nine managed to break through and it looked a certain try and he was pulled down just short of the line and they managed to hold them out, so they’ve passion, drive, grit and they’re a little bit different in that way.”
As for their statement performance last week at home to Leicester, “Bloody hell. Just watching it there, they were pretty impressive and they’re right in the mix.”
Munster have the wherewithal to take Castres straight back out of the mix but they have to box clever, be strong in the collisions and well disciplined at the breakdown, both areas that let them down against Racing and allowed the French side to build scores that gave them, initially, a 10-0 lead, then 18-7 and ultimately come from behind at 30-28 to win 34-30 in the dying minutes.
They also have to take the sort of opportunities they created a week ago that should have given them victory and secured a quarter-final spot a week in advance.
Munster will not, dare not, ignore those lessons this time around.
MUNSTER: S Zebo; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, R Marshall, S Archer; J Kleyn, B Holland; P O’Mahony - captain, C Cloete, CJ Stander. Replacements: N Scannell, J Cronin, J Ryan, D O’Shea, J O’Donoghue, D Williams, JJ Hanrahan, A Wootton.
CASTRES: G Palis; K Jaminet, T Combezou, R Ebersohn - captain, D Smith; J Dumora, R Kockott; A Tichit, J Jenneker, D Tussac; A Bias, T Lassalle; Y Caballero, S Mafi, A Tulou. Replacements: K Firmin, T Stroe, D Kotze, V Moreaux, B Delaporte, Y Domenech, Y Le Bourhis, A Taumoepeau.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Match summary: Champions Cup Pool 4, Munster v Castres, Thomond Park, 1pm
TV: Sky Sports
Bet: Munster 1/50 Castres 22/1 Draw 70/1