Peter O’Mahony admitted Munster’s quarter-final qualification hopes had taken a hit from Saturday’s home stalemate with Racing 92, but both he and Johann van Graan were staying positive ahead of back-to-back games against Saracens next month.
The 21-21 tie at Thomond Park suited the visitors much more than the home side, which has trips to defending champions Saracens and Racing in rounds four and five of this Heineken Champions Cup campaign. Sarries’ bonus-point home win over Ospreys on Saturday leaves them just a point behind both Munster and Racing after the opening two rounds, with Mark McCall’s side still to welcome back the bulk of their English World Cup battalion.
“It’s not ideal,” Munster skipper O’Mahony said of the scenario. “We want to win at home every time we play here, certainly, but we have been here the last couple of years, we have been in much the same position. The bonus point last week could be really important to us, we ground that out.
“That will stand to us, certainly. Seven points, two wins without a bonus point is eight, it will stand to us, 100%. We could be sitting here with four last week and none tonight. That would be a different kettle of fish, so we will take what we have got and battle on with it.”
Head coach van Graan took a similar line when asked whether the draw with Racing piled more pressure on his players to secure a victory in the upcoming home game with Saracens on December 7.
“I am going to have to think about that one,” van Graan said. “It’s the same position we’ve been in in the last two years. Ever since the draw for this group came out, we know it was going to be tough either way, and there’s so much rugby to go.
“What I’ve learned since I came to Munster two years and one week ago is that this competition gets decided in round six.
“We are actually joint top of the group with Racing and, if I’m not mistaken, there is one point in it difference-wise and I see Saracens got a good win against Ospreys and the Ospreys will have quite a few players leading back into round three, four, five, and six, so their game will have a massive bearing.
“Next up in Europe we’ve got Saracens. We always knew that that was going to be a massive game.
“Whatever happens tonight or whatever happens to them, Saracens home and away was always going to be tough and they just showed, I didn’t see the game yet, I just saw the score.
“They are such a fantastic rugby side. This is Europe and we’ve got European champions home and away in round three and four, and I guess from a spectator point of view, what more can you ask for?”
The Munster boss said that he would not read too much into the suggestion that Saracens would be prioritising top-flight survival in England over their European campaign in the wake of their 35-point deduction as a punishment for breaking the Premiership salary cap.
Offered a metaphorical pinch of salt to take with that one, van Graan said: “I’ll take that with a bowl of salt.
“You know, just looking at the players that played (for Saracens) tonight, their squad, you’ve got Elliot Daly starting at 15 — that’s not your second-string side.
“So we’ll regroup. We’ll just take stock obviously with the Irish lads coming from the World Cup, some guys might rest this week, we’ve got to manage them.
“We’re back to the PRO14, big game against Edinburgh and then in two weeks we’ve got Saracens at home so we’ll bide our time and see what happens.”