Flannery happy to weather the storm

JERRY FLANNERY isn’t one to run away from a challenge, but he felt like doing so at Stradey Park after 50 minutes of last week’s Heineken Cup clash with the Scarlets.

The monsoon-like conditions threatened to make the Heineken Cup points less of a priority than player safety at one point. Referee Wayne Barnes was within minutes of postponing the game.

“Everyone will remember certain games, and I can look back to particularly horrendous weather against Connacht in the Sportsground in Galway a couple of years ago.

“But that was nothing on this; it wasn’t as incessantly wet or cold. What we endured last week was particularly bad; it was the worst from my point of view, from everyone’s point of view,” he said.

In the aftermath, with Munster winning the game 29-16, Flannery was glad the game ran its course, and that he had a ringside seat to one of the finest episodes of ball retention he has seen in the modern game. “I have never seen a sequence of so many phases put together without a breakdown. Certainly, I would wonder if 31, 32 or 38 phases, depending on who did the stats, would be possible in those conditions. It was amazing to watch,” he said.

Flannery went on: “Even in good weather, it’s hard to keep it going because you’re always facing physical confrontation. But the guys were so clever; there was always someone in support and it just seemed to go on and on. Remarkable.”

But there will be nothing easy in the return fixture at Thomond Park on Sunday, according to Flannery.

“We’re not going to be fooled into thinking a win in Wales will guarantee another one in Limerick. A week before the game with Llanelli, we were after suffering a defeat to Leinster. I suppose a lot of people didn’t think we had much of a chance in Wales.

“We didn’t adapt too well to the conditions against Leinster — that’s not to take anything away from them — they played very well.

“We were hurting after that defeat, and maybe the conditions we experienced in Cork helped us to be better able to cope with the conditions in Wales. Either way, we were conscious that we had to step up to the mark and meet the challenge head on,” he said.

The Scarlets, he feels, will feel similarly hurt this weekend. “That will make them very dangerous opponents,” he suggested.

“We can go on about what we did at a very important time in the match last week, but that was never an easy battle up front. Llanelli are mobile and confrontational in the forward pack, and we all know what they’re capable of behind the scrum.

“Llanelli have a good record in Europe, and they won’t want to be seen as the poor relations of this particular group.”

Flannery still winces at Munster’s solitary loss to date in the pool of death. “The fact that we lost that opening game at Wasps put us under pressure, but this group plays better than ever under pressure.”

Meanwhile, Stephen Jones returns for the Scarlets on Sunday as the Welsh region cling on to their faint European hopes. Jones has recovered from the neck problem that forced him to miss Munster’s win at Stradey and is one of six changes.

Teenage centre Jonathan Davies comes in for his first European start in place of Gavin Evans, while prop Ben Broster makes his full debut for the region since his summer move from Saracens.

Vernon Cooper replaces Scott MacLeod at lock, while Wales international Alix Popham and James Bater come into a new-look back row alongside Irish skipper Simon Easterby.

Insisted Scarlets director of rugby Phil Davies: “We are still in there. We are not going to lie down and make it easy for anyone. It’s a great challenge to play back-to-back games against such a great team as Munster. Hopefully we can get back on our horses next week. We’ve got three games left and we want to put in a good performance.”

SCARLETS (v Munster): M. Stoddart; M. Jones, R. King, J. Davies, N. Brew; S. Jones, D. Peel; I. Thomas, J. Hayter, B. Broster, V. Cooper, A. Eustace, S. Easterby (capt), A. Popham, J. Bater.

Replacements: D. George, D. Manu, S. MacLeod, N. Thomas, G. Thomas, G. Cattle, C. Thomas.

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