Sammy Arnold is wary of a Connacht team with nothing to lose at Thomond Park tomorrow night as Munster bid to rebound from their European semi-final defeat to Saracens.
Both provinces are already assured of knockout rugby in the Guinness PRO14 play-offs next month with Munster guaranteed at least second place in Conference A and Connacht 12 points behind them, secure in third.
Yet with the Reds still hopeful of leapfrogging leaders Glasgow Warriors this weekend and claiming top spot and a home semi-final, bypassing the quarters, the pressure remains on for Johann van Graan’s team, who must beat Connacht and hope Glasgow are defeated at home by Edinburgh, both games kicking off at 7:35pm.
Conversely, Connacht will travel south from Galway to Limerick free of any pressure in the last round of league action and Munster centre Arnold warned: “They’ve got nothing to lose.
“I think we sort of had that last year with Ulster. We couldn’t get top spot in the group. They came down here and a lot of lads got chances and they had to send down their best team to try and qualify for Europe. They ended up getting their own play-off, but they made it tough for themselves.
Arnold knows Munster are relying on a favour from Edinburgh at Scotstoun but they still need to hold up their side of the bargain and beat the westerners.
“Lots can happen in a game of rugby; anyone can beat anyone these days, so I think for us it’s pretty simple: We just focus on getting the win this weekend and then what happens elsewhere, happens elsewhere.
“If Glasgow do win and we have a home quarter-final (next weekend), I suppose we have to just look at it from the way we’ve got another 80 minutes to gel a bit together and kind of find a bit more form, if possible and keep the ball rolling.
“A home semi would be nice, but if we don’t get it, we’ll have to get on with it and get over it.”
Arnold sees an interprovincial derby as the perfect way for Munster to regroup following the defeat to Saracens and another European semi-final exit last Saturday.
“We were happy our run-in was tough. We said that if we had a less difficult game towards the end of the season, you can kind of switch off for a week. We’re grateful our run-in has been the way it’s been.
“Connacht have obviously been going unbelievably this year. They’re back in European rugby next season. I expect it to be a really, really good game. Obviously, we can only control what we can control. We need results elsewhere to go our way. But if Edinburgh win in Glasgow, we get the home semi, so that’s the plan.”
Having broken his leg in a training collision in January, Arnold did not return to action until April 5, scoring a late try against Cardiff Blues in his five minutes off the bench. Then followed 78 minutes against Benetton in Treviso but a travelling reserve role against Saracens means the 23-year-old is bursting to play after losing so much of his season to injury.
“And then, by which time the team sort of picks itself; you win games, it cements itself towards the end of the season. You pick your most in-form players and I probably haven’t got the minutes at the minute. So hopefully I get my chance this weekend and I can flip the whole thing on its head, but we’ll see.
“I’m just happy to be back playing and contributing when I can or where I can. Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, if we win the PRO14 I’ll be happy, regardless of playing or not. I’m part of this squad because I want to win trophies and that’s why I’m here. So, if the lads go out there and I don’t play and we win a trophy then I have nothing to complain about really.”