Young guns come of age as Reds eye more giant-killing

PAUL O’Connell may have produced the definitive performance in Munster’s stunning Heineken Cup victory over Harlequins but it was Tommy O’Donnell who gave the rousing pre-match speech and inspired the emotional energy that took his side to the semi-finals.

Young guns come of age as Reds eye more giant-killing

The 18-12 win at The Stoop was built on O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara’s refusal to accept defeat, but it also demonstrated that the young guard are perhaps not as far away from succeeding them as might have been thought.

Indeed in flankers O’Donnell and Peter O’Mahony, Munster had two men who seemed to come of age.

Neither are new to the side, and both have been involved in the Ireland setup, but Mike Sherry revealed after the game that the youngsters took charge pre-match.

O’Mahony captained the side while senior players were absent at last season’s World Cup, but O’Donnell is a quieter character — a facet of his personality that makes his pre-match call to arms even more impressive.

And Sherry acknowledged that afterwards, bringing up O’Donnell’s speech unprompted as he looked to assess the combination of youth and experience that took Munster to a meeting with Clermont Auvergne later this month.

“Paul and Ronan are two huge influences and have been around for 13-14 years, won competitions here, and played huge amounts for Ireland and Munster,” said Sherry.

“But it’s time for us young fellas to step up and deliver as well, which I thought we did. Tommy O’Donnell spoke and it was brilliant to see someone like that who is not very vocal speaking up and getting passionate, and that got people going.

“It was great to see it wasn’t Paul and ROG yet again. They did speak and they always speak, but other fellas need to back them up, which we did.

“How big was the contribution from the two flankers? They tackled and held fellas up and got a few mauls, got turnover ball from that. Their poaching was brilliant.

“As well as that Pete had a storming 15 minutes after half-time, got two turnovers and got us going. He was a real catalyst so they’re both incredible athletes and deserved it.”

This stunning victory was a bright spot in what has been, at best, a mixed campaign.

Sixth in the PRO12, a mammoth 20 points behind Glasgow Warriors, the authority and command of their performance in west London was as unexpected as it was impressive.

As the players conducted their lap of honour in front of their huge travelling support, Sherry acknowledged that standards have not been good enough and that days such as these have been all too rare lately.

Now, knowing they will be huge underdogs in Montpellier against Clermont, they have the chance to make amends.

He added: “Has a benchmark been set? Yes. A lot of people write us off but we don’t really buy into that.

“At times this season we’ve let ourselves down but we know what we can do.

“On Sunday we thought that result was within us, though I know a lot of people might be thinking, ‘where did that come from?’ “But we think it’s there the whole time and we never go out onto the pitch to play like we did against Glasgow last week (in the 51-24 defeat), it just happened.

“Maybe it gave us the kick up the arse and focused the minds for this week.

“But definitely we have the belief. We know it’s going to be a huge challenge, Clermont are a quality side.

“I watched them on Saturday and they have a few incredible individuals, but we definitely have another great European away day to look forward to.

“We’re close now, we are one game away from a home final so yeah, it’s tangible. It’s well within our reach. That (winning the competition) is definitely a realistic goal.

“It is hard to bottle this up and reproduce it. But look, you’re going away to France, a great stadium, both sets of fans are passionate and I have no doubt we can reach the quality levels, the work-rate, the intensity we did on Sunday. I don’t think that will be an issue for an away semi-final in France.”

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