At the very least, Munster need a bonus point at the Cardiff City Stadium if they are to advance to the knock-out stages of the league.
They currently enjoy a four-point advantage over the Blues, but manager Shaun Payne warned yesterday: “If we were to finish level on points with Cardiff on the number of games won rule, that would see them through. We basically can’t allow them to close the four-point gap, it needs to be three.”
Payne, however, stressed winning was high on their priority list because, following Glasgow’s narrow win over the Scarlets last night, Munster remain in fourth place. Achieving such a result, however, could prove extremely difficult for Munster for several reasons, not least their need to change half the side that played against Biarritz.
In addition, the Blues’ massive degree of confidence after the result against Wasps and the fact that they are able to field all but one of that side is a major boon for them.
The only change is in the front row where Scott Andrews has been called in for Taufa’ao Filise, the latest victim of groin strain.
This will also be the last game at the new and spacious City Stadium as a Blues player for Ulster-bound Xavier Rush, and they will want to send the hero of the victory over Wasps on his way with a favourable result.
After that game, Rush was rather extravagantly described as “the best number eight in the world” by some Welsh pundits but he certainly is a forward of the highest quality.
After tomorrow’s game, he will be giving his shirt away to raise funds for the SA Brains Captain’s Climb for cancer charity Stepping Stones.
“The fans and everyone at the Blues have been great with me since I arrived five years ago,” said the former skipper.
“I hope I can go out with a bang with a win against Munster and hope that my shirt finds a good home.”
While everything seems to be going just as they would have wanted in Cardiff, such is far from the case in Munster. It hasn’t been easy to come down from the disappointment of San Sebastian, as Payne admitted.
“We didn’t play well. But this game is absolutely vital, it’s our season.”
That being the case, it might have been expected that they would put out their best available team. Clearly, though, last week’s game has taken its toll. For instance, leaving four players, Alan Quinlan, James Coughlan, Tomás O’Leary and Paul Warwick, who started against Biarritz was explained by Payne as “an indication of how hard that game was.”
There was further bad news during yesterday’s session at UL when Keith Earls pulled up with a recurrence of his groin problem and was ruled out. Furthermore, hookers Jerry Flannery and Denis Fogarty are both out with calf injuries, Mick O’Driscoll has a sprained ankle, Paul O’Connell, Doug Howlett and Ian Dowling still aren’t fit to return, and John Hayes takes a well-deserved breather.
On the surface, it doesn’t look the brightest scenario for Munster who have not won in Cardiff since November 2005, and they are up against a side that has come out on top in each of their last six outings.
Munster have won just twice on the road, at the Scarlets and Connacht. It would therefore take an exceptional performance for this weakened and hurting side to return with the desired result.