While Simon Zebo was impressing once again for Racing 92, his replacement Mike Haley continued his progression with a strong showing for Munster in their victory over Castres on Sunday.
Zebo bagged his eighth try for Racing 92 as they defeated Leicester Tigers, and they’re one of three unbeaten teams left in the competition and set for a spot in the knock-out stages.
Haley (24) got off to a rocky start at the weekend when he kicked directly into touch from outside his 22 in the first minute, but by the second minute he had nailed a similar kick to put his side on the front foot.
Throughout he coped brilliantly as Castres sought to kick the ball high towards the Munster back three, while one brilliant individual run in the second-half almost saw the former Sale full-back break clear and contributed to him making the most distance (69m) in the game across both teams.
The four match points sees Munster three points clear of Gloucester in second place, and Haley is desperate to carve out a first away win of the competition in Castres this Saturday before they renew acquaintances with the Kingsholm crew.
“It’s a huge game away coming up.
“Obviously we got the draw away to Exeter already (in round one) so we’ll definitely want to go away and get the win in Castres,” said Haley, who already has scored two tries for Munster.
“I think we did really well to build the scoreboard against them.
“We kept it ticking along, getting three points, six points, and at the start of the second half we came out and got a try straight away.
“We trained very hard this week for a great win out there.
“Castres were very tough opposition and obviously the last Top 14 winners, it was by no means an easy opposition. They were really tough and I think we just managed the conditions really well.”
After Zebo’s departure it was expected that Andrew Conway was the top contender to fill the No 15 shirt, but all 10 of Haley’s starts have come at full-back, while six of Conway’s eight games have been on the wing, where he has scored all five of his tries from this season.
Whoever is named in the back three probably won’t have to cope with such awkward conditions at Stade Pierre Fabre on Saturday, and Munster captain Peter O’Mahony is expecting a fierce test.
“You could have a beautiful day in the South of France and it’s a different animal,” said O’Mahony.
“We’ve played each other the most of any two teams in the competition and it’s always incredibly intense and heated and you’ve the cauldron over there that is Castres Rugby and we’ll be under no illusions that we’ll be going into a hostile environment.
“They’re the days that you look forward to though. You know, it’s the biggest test of all, the French Top 14 champions in their backyard, it doesn’t get any bigger than that but we’ll be looking forward to it and we’ll certainly be very conscious of the test that’s coming.
“We’ve done a lot of video on them this week, and that’s the nature of the back-to-back, you’ve a little less work to do and we’re lucky with the six-day turnaround, we don’t have as many days of training as we would normally have but you’ve done a bit of your work already.
“Neither of us are going to change the wheel for next week so you’ve a bit of your work done but it’s just a different animal over there.”