This may be a pool of death Munster are facing into as the 25th Heineken Champions Cup campaign gets underway this weekend but the fixture schedule has at least handed Johann van Graan’s side the most palatable of introductions, albeit away, with a trip to off-form Ospreys.
With the cream having risen to the top and the four best sides left standing in the tournament providing two contrasting semi-final shootouts, we are left, with a potentially explosive final with rugby north and south of the equator set for a fascinating head to head.
This World Cup serves to remind us that previous form or results counts for little. The fact that Ireland had won two of their previous encounters against New Zealand only handed Steve Hansen and his coaching staff a template to beat us when it mattered most.
That Ireland could lose a World Cup quarter-final to the All Blacks is not a major shock in itself. New Zealand just have better cattle, as I said in last week’s column. However, the manner of the loss, even at a remove now of five days, was utterly shocking.
Ireland’s standing as a rugby nation has taken a tumble after the ignominious quarter-final exit at the hands of the All Blacks, with the New Zealand press declaring Joe Schmidt’s side “abysmal” and “embarrassing”.
Ireland will have to wait another four years for a crack at a first World Cup semi-final appearance after Joe Schmidt’s tenure as head coach came to an end with a comprehensive defeat to the world champions on Saturday.
They may be trying to end each other’s World Cups tomorrow but both Steve Hansen and Joe Schmidt have revealed the camaraderie that exists between the New Zealand and Ireland coaching staffs ahead of their quarter-final at Tokyo Stadium.
Whether you are beating the All Blacks five tries to four or grinding it out in a tight arm-wrestle, Johnny Sexton knows the common thread to Ireland’s recent successes against the best team in the world was to never switch off.
Maybe it says everything about the way the All Blacks are that the day after they learned their final pool game against Italy had been cancelled, they woke up super early and battered themselves senseless in a training game.
CAPE TOWN - After years of inane platitudes from All Black coach Steve Hansen about the rivalry with the Boks after his side racked up record scores against their old foes, things changed this week.