Give a team of Leinster’s quality the kind of start they enjoyed in last year’s corresponding fixture at Thomond Park and the game is as good as over.
Munster head coach Johann van Graan hasn’t forgotten how the visitors ran up 27 points in as many minutes that was never going to be pegged back no matter how gamely the home side battled before going down by 34-24.
“I think every game is a big game but this is a special one not only for Irish rugby but for the people of Munster,” van Graan acknowledged.
“The last time we lost a game in Thomond Park was against Leinster last year in the same fixture. They had a very good start to that game and we had a very good second half and there were one or two individual moments that made a difference. I believe it will be the same on the weekend.There are two quality sides playing against each other. We’ve got most of our squad available and I believe it will come down to two things.
“One, that each individual player will play to the best of his ability and (two) the team that takes the opportunities (will win). That’s something we’d like to improve on.”
While van Graan is a good man to keep his negative views to himself, even he has to admit that Munster will be lucky to dispose of this outstanding Leinster squad if they fail to take advantage of the type of chances that went a-begging in the two European Cup games against Castres and even when losing their fourth match on the trot to Leinster back in October.
“There were one or two big moments against Castres, specifically that play just before half-time where we were literally just five yards away and we had an opportunity on the try line in which we lost the ball,” the South African lamented.
“If you look back at it and score one of those, you win the game but that wasn’t to be and you know in big games, big moments win it. I’m sure there will be big moments ahead (against Leinster) and we have to take those opportunities this time.”
Van Graan insists neither he nor his players are suffering from bruised morale or are unduly bothered by losing their last two outings against Castres and Ulster.
“No. I said from the beginning of the season you are going to get ebbs and flows,” he declared. “We spoke about it as a team and that’s why we start every week the same way.
“You lose a game against Castres and one decision or one kick goes over the posts and you win and you’d look very differently at it. We don’t have any excuses about the results from the last two weeks.
“We made quite a few changes against Ulster and I thought we had opportunities to win it there and at least we got the losing bonus point.”
Many understandably disappointed Munster fans were more inclined to attribute the defeat by Castres to refereeing calls by Wayne Barnes rather than to the team’s ongoing failure to capitalise on scoring opportunities. Hopefully, neither side tomorrow night will have any reason to complain about Frank Murphy, a Corkman and former Munster scrum-half who is steadily forging quite a reputation for himself as the man in the middle and has now been handed one of the most difficult assignments in Irish rugby.
“As a squad we said we weren’t going to blame a referee,” van Graan insists.
“Decisions are made and sometimes you get a rub of the green and sometimes you don’t. That’s why I commented over the last few weeks that all you want is consistency.
“At some stages we are going to be on the wrong side of it and other times you are going to be on the right side of it. That’s not an excuse. We’ve got to play better and maybe the frustrating thing about it is that we had opportunities to win both games (over the last fortnight) and we didn’t.”
We must wait until noon today before knowing the exact composition of the two sides. Van Graan only revealed that he will be “missing one or two” of his international squad and also that hooker Rhys Marshall and centre Chris Lewis will have to wait another week before making their return from injury. It remains to be seen if Jonny Sexton will captain Leinster. Van Graan certainly expects so and last night paid him a glowing tribute: “They’ve got a general at 10. He’s currently the world player of the year. He is currently the class player in the world that gives structure to his team.”