McGahan relishing battle with arch rivals

MUNSTER’S injury crisis has been well documented, but there were no histrionics from coach Tony McGahan yesterday as he announced a 27-man squad to prepare for Saturday’s Magners League derby with Leinster at Thomond Park (7.30).

McGahan believes his Munster side, without long term victims Jerry Flannery, Ian Dowling, Tom Gleeson, Dave Ryan, Denis Hurley and most recently Tomás O’Leary, will be facing the best team in Europe, but believes his charges will be up to the task.

McGahan feels Munster are in a decent place with a decent squad at this stage of the season. He has, he figures, most of the troops he wants for battle as Munster seek to end a five-match losing streak against their biggest rivals.

The Australian is well aware of how much this means to both provinces, noting: “This game always represents a challenge regardless of where the two sides are at, regardless of whether its Heineken Cup, Magners League, U-20s or an ‘A’ game. Whatever the competition, it brings out the best in both sides. We are really looking forward to it on Saturday at home.”

And McGahan offered an interesting insight into the contrasting fortunes of both sides: “The onus is on us to improve. That is the key issue, we have come up short.

“If you look at our last three games we have come up four points, one point and 10 points short.”

McGahan’s squad of 27 includes youngsters such as Felix Jones, Declan Cusack, Conor Murray, Mike Sherry, Stephen Archer and Peter O’Mahony. Jones, Murray and Sherry will be in the match day squad for sure, with O’Mahony a possibility.

McGahan believes the healing process has begun following the Heineken Cup defeat, and that still being in two competitions is enough to be going on with.

With dreams of another quarter-final appearance in tatters following the loss to Toulon, the coach said he couldn’t have asked for a better response: “We’re certainly pleased, to get a bonus point victory the week after that (against London Irish).”

McGahan believes the outcome of Saturday’s game could hinge on one or two incidents, although he will be hammering home to his charges the need to dominate the forward exchanges.

Leinster have faced unjust criticism over the years about their ability to front up physically, but that argument has long been put to bed and McGahan, naturally enough, wouldn’t dare add fuel to that fire.

“I think the contests have always been great, I don’t think there has been much in it.”

“There is a real hard edge about the way Leinster play. They have an excellent pressure game, a really good counter game and they’re very intelligent.

“The improvement in their forward pack has been a really strong ingredient for them, there is the attacking nous with regards to their backs but I think the hardness and the set-piece from their forwards has added an extra dimension to their game.”

“You would say they are probably the best side in Europe, the best side in Ireland and their form over the last three or four years has lived up to that with their performances,” said the Munster coach.

It’s going to be tough for Munster to find their feet after five successive defeats, but McGahan insists the bad record has not been spoken about at any great length.

“Really, it’s not something we have really spoken about or addressed. There is enough talk out there from the different parties, from the supporters, from the media etc. We certainly don’t make a point of it or refer to it. Whether Leinster do or not, I’m not privy to that. But certainly there is enough talk out there from that end. Certainly we’re just concerning ourselves and making sure that we have learned from past experiences and make sure we’re not making the same mistakes”.

MUNSTER (from): F. Jones, D. Howlett, P. Warwick, S. Tuitupou, J. Murphy, L. Mafi, K. Earls, D. Cusack, R. O’Gara, P. Stringer, C. Murray, W. Du Preez, D. Varley, M. Sherry, J. Hayes, M. Horan, S. Archer, T. Buckley, P. O’Connell (captain), D. O’Callaghan, M. O’Driscoll, J. Coughlan, N. Ronan, D. Wallace, P. O’Mahony, D. Ryan, D. Leamy

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