Rassie Erasmus: ‘It’s going to be a grind’

A near-frozen Glasgow and an in-form Warriors provide yet another test of this Munster’s side mettle this evening as Rassie Erasmus’s players bid to reach the Champions Cup knockout rounds with a week to spare.

Rassie Erasmus: ‘It’s going to be a grind’

It has been three years since the province has found itself in this position, their fate in the previous two European campaigns having already been decided in less positive circumstances by this stage. So, yet again in this most tumultuous of seasons, this current Munster team finds itself in uncharted waters, searching for a second away win in their pool for the first time since January 2014.

Back then it came at Gloucester, a 20-7 victory for a Rob Penney XV whose names signify a different era, the likes of Casey Laulala and James Downey alongside Munster stalwarts James Coughlan, BJ Botha, Damien Varley and Paul O’Connell.

They would reach, somewhat against expectation, the Heineken Cup semi-finals for the second season in a row before falling to Toulon in Marseille. These, though, are different times in a changed and more difficult competition and this is a re-booted Munster side playing as if it belongs once again at the highest levels of European club rugby.

A win in Glasgow tonight, just seven days after the bonus-point demolition of French champions Racing 92 in Paris, and their place among the big guns, as well as the quarter-finals, would be confirmed.

Nor is there any reason to doubt they are capable of achieving the feat. As strong a threat as PRO12 rivals Glasgow represent with an all-Scotland-capped XV on their 4G pitch at Scotstoun, Munster are on a roll. If their emotion-fuelled 38-17 victory over Gregor Townsend’s side, the day after the funeral of head coach Anthony Foley, was very much an anomaly given the circumstances, Munster’s performances since then have pointed to a more accurate, powerful and clinical side of their play that had previously been frustratingly absent.

Only pool rivals Leicester have bettered them since Foley’s sudden death on October 16 and that was to a late long-range penalty kick at Welford Road. Munster have found several ways to win the other nine games since the hammering of Glasgow.

Close games — including a league win at Scotstoun on December 2 — have been closed out with aplomb and other sides have been put to the sword, not least last Saturday, when a Racing side bursting with Test class was punished for their lack of commitment to the European cause.

Erasmus suggested getting the job done on their return to Scotland this weekend will take more of the former.

“Last week put us in a position to try and get it this weekend,” Erasmus said. “Gregor and his team would see it the same, so we’re playing away from home, it’s going to be a great spectacle and it’s going to be an honour to be part of that. It will be a grind out there, if you look at the weather I think it’s going to be the tactically smart team that wins, and the team that pitches up with intensity.

“Tactically if I look at the weather there on Saturday it is going to be freezing and snowing and they are playing at home. They are playing on their pitch. More of a tactical pitch this weekend, not that I think the intensity is going to be down. The week of Axel’s death was just an emotional week - you can’t understand why we pitched up or why we played the way we did. You can’t really compare that to a normal week.”

Either way, today’s game is, he added, “a massive one”. With Jack O’Donoghue drafted into the back row in the absence of injured flanker Tommy O’Donnell neither their ball-carrying capacity nor breakdown intensity should suffer, while the backline, anchored by Conor Murray and Tyler Bleyendaal with a well-balanced and efficient midfield of Rory Scannell and Jaco Taute, can keep Munster playing at the high tempo games with Glasgow on their artificial surface so often produce.

Naturally, the Warriors will have their own ideas and have just as much potency in their backline with Finn Russell pulling the strings at out-half and the likes of Tommy Seymour and Stuart Hogg in their back three. Yet this is new territory for the home side too. A quarter-final place has eluded Glasgow in each of their 17 seasons in the premier club competition, and while they recorded back to back wins over Racing in December, a third straight European win tonight would be a first with Townsend at the helm, the Warriors having failed to do so since 2011. History is there for the making but could also be their undoing. Munster are perfectly capable of going toe to toe with this Glasgow side, and if they maintain the standards they have set over the last 12 weeks, then the juggernaut will roll into the last eight with a game to spare.

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