Payne: Cardiff provided ideal dry run

SHOULD Munster enjoy a fruitful pre-Christmas Heineken Cup run against the Ospreys, bouquets will likely be handed to the Thomond Park ground staff for their success in getting the pitch ready for last Saturday’s Magners League clash with Cardiff Blues.

Munster team manager Shaun Payne hailed the staff for a “massive effort” in successfully preparing the ground for what he termed as a “vital pre-Heineken Cup fixture.”

“Saturday’s game was vital for us and for Cardiff; they were in the same situation, maybe not as bad as us in the sense that we had 13 guys coming back from international duty and Paulie (O’Connell) as well, but it was logical to recognise we (both) needed a game before the Heineken Cup.

“It was important also in the context of the Magners League to play against tough opposition who wanted to win as much as we did,” he said.

Payne is under no illusions that Munster’s performance in the 16-9 win wasn’t perfect: “Look, you could see the guys were a bit ring-rusty, there was a lot of spilled ball out there; it was very slippery, very dewy but to get the game and come through it was the most important thing really.

“It was a difficult week training as well; we had to move on to different pitches, we weren’t able to train in UL as we wanted. Training wasn’t ideal but to have the game at the end of the week was really important.”

The importance of having had to front up to a Welsh side eight days before a Heineken Cup clash with the current Magners League champions was important, however, he believes.

“Cardiff are a good side, they’re (always) tough opposition. Where it puts us for next week is that it was great to have a run-out, it wasn’t always a great performance, but we’re coming back to full strength and it was obviously great to have Paulie (O’Connell) back.

“He is one of the talismen of the team; he has been out since March and he now can’t stop grinning in there (dressing room) having got back; it’s great for all of us to have him here.”

Meanwhile, Former British & Irish Lions star Ieuan Evans has stoked up Sunday’s Heineken Cup showdown with the Ospreys as a game that will “define” both club’s European ambitions.

Evans, one of only eight Welshmen to lift the Heineken Cup, with Bath in 1998, said: “The back-to-back games are make-or-break games for both sides. The Ospreys have to take something out of the first game and then win at home while a defeat at home this week would be a major blow for Munster. In such a tight pool, this is a huge opportunity for both sides.”

Limerick holds painful memories for the Ospreys, after they were humiliated 43-9 at the hands of the red army in the quarter-finals of the 2009 Heineken Cup.

But former Wales record-cap holder Evans believes the Ospreys have banished the ghosts of that capitulation with their league win last season.

Evans said: “The mental block of having to go to Ireland is not as bad as it once was. The Ospreys cracked that last season, it’s not the impossible challenge it used to be for Welsh sides.

“They have gone beyond the performance in the quarter-finals two years ago, which was a nightmare afternoon for them. They’re a better team and more advanced psychologically.

“Cardiff could have won at Thomond Park in the Magners last weekend and the Ospreys have been there and done it before.”

The Ospreys still have internationals Tommy Bowe, Jerry Collins and Huw Bennett to return, and hope to have Lee Byrne fit, after withdrawing late from the weekend’s fixture with a hand injury sustained against the All Blacks a fortnight ago.

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