Peter O’Mahony is certain not only that Munster are going to need their best performance of the season on Saturday but also that the current turmoil behind the scenes will have no bearing on what his team produces in the Guinness PRO14 semi-final at Leinster.
Munster will travel to the RDS in Dublin this weekend to try and avenge last season’s narrow defeat to their rivals, who went on and completed a European and PRO14 double.
But they do so against a potentially disruptive backdrop following the announcement last week Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery will be leaving their coaching posts at the end of the season.
Munster captain O’Mahony, one of seven Irish players named yesterday in French newspaper Midi Olympique’s Champions Cup team of the season, six of whom are expected to be on duty in this weekend’s RDS showdown, knows his players have to raise their games following a lucky escape in a lacklustre play-off victory over Benetton a fortnight ago.
The skipper is confident, however, that the pending departures of former team-mates turned assistant coaches Flannery and Jones will not be a distraction as Munster prepare to face the defending champions.
“No, I don’t think so. They’ve outlined how important this week is, and I’ve known the guys a long time,” O’Mahony said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll be firmly focused and on point with everything they do this week and we’ll all be working in the same direction to
getting this week as right as possible.”
O’Mahony was named at openside flanker in the Midi Olympique Champions Cup back-row of the season alongside Leinster’s Scott Fardy and Saracens No. 8 Billy Vunipiola, while Leinster front-rowers Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong feature at hooker and tighthead respectively, Munster’s Tadhg Beirne was named at lock and Joey Carbery got the nod over Ireland fly-half rival Johnny Sexton in the number 10 selection.
Carbery tussled with Sexton at Thomond Park on December 29 when Munster won a niggly, PRO14 derby to make it one win apiece for the current campaign, a result O’Mahony recognised as “good for guys”.
“It was important for us to get a win, we hadn’t beaten them in a long time but, you know, it’s a different animal. Semi-final rugby is a different animal again and it’s going to take our best performance of the year, I know that for a fact.
"That’s the main thing and a lot of guys understand that but we’ve just got to beat that drum this week.”
The Munster captain believes the province has shown glimpses of their best rugby throughout the season as they reached the Champions Cup semi-finals, losing to eventual champions Saracens and came a narrow runner-up to Glasgow Warriors in PRO14 Conference A. He admitted his side would have to be the sum of its parts this Saturday if it is to beat Leinster for a second time in five months.
“I think we’ve put parts of our game together at different times of the season. I don’t think we’ve put them all together at once. It’s a difficult thing to do, as well, particularly when you’re playing against teams as good as Leinster.”
Munster have had a week’s extra preparation compared to Leinster, diverted by their European final defeat to Saracens in Newcastle last Saturday and it will have been needed to get back on track from a less than stellar win over Treviso in Limerick.
“We’re 46-47 weeks into a season and you need it to be coming off at this time of the year and guys are working on their skills and guys are working hard on our plays and you need 15 people performing at their best at the weekend, and that will be the reason why it will fall into place.”