Even the absence of skipper Peter O’Mahony and his international team mate Conor Murray through injury hasn’t diminished the sense of quiet confidence among Munster supporters as they head north for this evening’s Guinness Pro 12 final against the Glasgow Warriors at the Kingspan Stadium.
If for no other reason, they resolutely believe that Paul O’Connell’s final appearance in the red shirt will inspire his colleagues and team mates to secure one last piece of silverware for the Limerick legend.
While Coach Anthony Foley demurs on this point, accepting that “sport doesn’t have any conscience” and that they are not entitled to anything just because O’Connell is on his way after 14 magnificent years with the province.
But Foley has also been playing down the absence of O’Mahony and Murray stressing the strength in depth of his squad and highlighting the roles of Billy Holland and Duncan Williams when called upon in recent weeks.
“If we can pull it off, then that would be great but if we don’t and we end up losing it’s not all doom and gloom,” Foley insisted.
“We’ve brought through a lot of players, we’re in a good position in that everyone has a clear understanding of how we want to play the game and what are we looking to do.
“There are a lot of teams like us that want to be winning trophies and that’s why the Pro 12 is so hotly contested. Hopefully we can get there and get over the line but it would be hell of a performance to get past Glasgow.
“You have to understand they won’t kick you the ball like every other team. They are the lowest kicking team in the competition, the highest offloading, guys like Stuart Hogg will go from anywhere, they have the most tries in the competition scored from their own half.
“So we need to be on alert in every aspect of the game.” Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend has preferred DTH Merwe, scorer of their match winning try against Ulster last week, to Niko Matawalu on the right wing and Leone Nakarawa to Al Kellock in the second-row.
But Matawalu and Kellock, a couple of formidable operators, will see plenty of game time while they are anticipating a major contribution from skipper Josh Strauss at number eight.
“It’s been an enjoyable week preparing for another final and it’s essential we use the experience of last season to put in a performance of which we can all be proud,” said Townsend.
“The way the team came back to win last week against Ulster underlined the work ethic and belief the players have in each other, and we expect to see more of that on display in Belfast. Munster are a quality side who have been at the top end of the Guinness Pro 12 table all season.
“They play a direct brand of rugby, balanced with dangerous attackers in their backline, so we’ll have to give our best defensive effort of the season.”
Apart from calling up Williams and Billy Holland to replace Murray and O’Mahony, Anthony Foley has also chosen BJ Botha ahead of Stephen Archer at tight head even though the latter had a hugely impressive outing in the semi-final win over the Ospreys. Foley also insists that he is happy with the appointment of Nigel Owens as referee.
“You know you’re in the top end of competitions when Nigel is refereeing your game”, he stressed.
“He is consistent. Even last week with a Welsh team coming to Thomond Park with a Welsh referee, we didn’t query it because of the quality of the person that is involved. We’ve enough players who play international rugby that have dealt with Nigel.
“We do give away penalties with him, we do get penalties with him as well but we have grown to have an understanding of how to work within that and hopefully that will continue.”