Munster captain Peter O’Mahony believes his side will have to park the disappointment of Sunday’s Champions Cup semi-final exit and at least match their best performance levels of this season if they are to contend for the Guinness PRO14 title over the next month.
The Reds play their final game of the league campaign today when Ulster visit Thomond Park (5:35pm) with head coach Johann van Graan resting many of his big guns following the exertions of the 27-22 defeat to Racing 92 in Bordeaux six days ago and in advance of the PRO14 play-offs, which begin next weekend.
Munster, already assured of second place in Conference A, will learn their quarter-final opponents tonight at the completion of all seven round 23 games and while Ireland and Lions back-row star O’Mahony will be among the frontliners watching events unfold in Limerick he is under no illusions it will take performance levels up there with that which saw off Toulon in the Champions Cup quarter-final on March 31 if Munster are to progress to a second league final in as many seasons at Aviva Stadium on May 26.
“Yeah, absolutely. The standard of the PRO14 is one of the best in the world,” O’Mahony said during this week’s Munster Rugby Awards.
“We’ve looked at minutes played, tries scored, it’s up there with all the other competitions. It’s right at the top and you look at the teams that are left in it now, that we’ll be competing with hopefully over the next few weeks, the quality of sides, Leinster, Scarlets, Glasgow, Ulster, Edinburgh - these teams, the quality they have is incredible.”
Munster centre Rory Scannell, one of three nominees alongside Jean Kleyn and eventual winner Keith Earls selected by their team-mates for Munster’s Player of the Year award, revealed that O’Mahony had quickly refocused the squad’s minds on the tasks ahead for the rest of the campaign.
“We’re massively disappointed with last weekend,” Scannell said, “but Pete talked to us when we came in on Tuesday and just said ‘we’ve got to put it behind us. We’re still in the quarter-final of the PRO14 so we just have to get on with the week’.
“We said we didn’t want to finish another season without a trophy and we’ve still got an opportunity of doing that. So that’s what everybody in the squad wants to do, we want to finish with a trophy this season and we’ve a good opportunity to do it.”
O’Mahony added his belief that there would be no problem putting European misery in the rear-view mirror. “When you’re in a professional game like this and you’re around professionals every day then it’s easy to move on to the next job. That’s what the game is about now, moving on.”
Not that last weekend’s semi-final loss to Racing would be completely erased from the memory banks.
In the immediate aftermath of defeat at Stade Chaban-Delmas O’Mahony said he was sick of both losing semi-finals and learning lessons from them but with some added time to reflect he concluded that Munster’s Heineken Cup-winning heroes of 2006 and 2008 had been through similar disappointments and taken their medicine along the way to becoming champion teams and the ambition remained to emulate them.
“I hope we can. It’s something that is very important, learning and taking your lessons. It’s difficult as well.
"It certainly hurts each time you lose, it’s difficult as you look back at what it’s taken to get to a semi-final: back to back Leicester games, the two Racing games, in the U Arena we were behind, got it back to a (losing) bonus point; in Castres getting back to a draw, the effort that went into Toulon.
"There’s a lot of effort goes in and it’s disappointing to let go but these things need to be banked and luckily enough the majority of us are a young squad and that rugby has to stand to you.
“I know for a fact that sitting amongst the players, there are guys who want to win trophies. They want to win the PRO14, they want to win Europe and there are guys who will shift mountains to get that.
"There’s a lot of belief there and there’s a huge amount of support behind us.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved