Despite having watched a couple of French front rows disappear into his rearview mirror, Munster prop Stephen Archer is not expecting any reduction in intensity tomorrow when the Guinness PRO14 campaign resumes with a trip to interprovincial rivals Connacht.
The tighthead has had his hands full in the past two weekends, with the Champions Cup bringing him face-to-face with international scrummaging talent representing Castres and Racing 92, including the latter’s Test loosehead Eddy Ben Arous.
Yet, Archer, who started ahead of John Ryan for both those pool games, knows Connacht also pack a punch up front, with Denis Buckley and Denis Coulson likely to be the westerners’ loosehead duo in the one and 17 jerseys, while their head coach Kieran Keane is set to welcome back Irish international Finlay Bealham following injury.
All of this makes the recent European-level experience beneficial in terms of the physicality awaiting in Galway’s Sportsground tomorrow night.
“We were up against a big [Racing] pack, so we had our work cut out for us, but as an eight it went really well and, in fairness, the back five drove us on and they were in our ears all day helping us out, so it was great for the front rows. Racing were tough up front,” said Archer.
The French Top14 front rows deserve their reputation as serious scrummaging units. Archer puts that down, not to nationality, but the nature of the league and the collection of top stars plying their trade in France.
“I wouldn’t say it is the French nationally, it’s just the French league, they have such a variety of different players there. You have [at Racing] a New Zealander [Ben Tameifuna], you have two French internationals as well [Ben Arous and hooker Camille Chat] and on the bench you had Census Johnston and Viliamu Afatia, two Samoans, so you have a change in people.
“You look throughout the French league: You have Georgians, Romanians, who are all good scrummagers, a few English fellas, as well, so it is a tough scrummaging league, pretty attritional.”
After the draw in Castres in round one and an important 14-7 win over Racing last Saturday, Archer believes Munster have a perfect springboard for the remaining two PRO14 games ahead of the international break for the November Tests, starting with Connacht this weekend.
“We are in a good position [in the Champions Cup] now. The group is very tight, but it’s early days yet. Those back-to-back fixtures [against Leicester Tigers] now in December will be a massive challenge and, yeah, big onus to get points in those, and there are some big league matches in between, too. Hopefully, we’ll get eight points from those matches now and we would be in a pretty good position, then.”
Munster may have done the league double over their neighbours last season as they rebounded from Connacht’s home and away wins in their title-winning run of 2015-16, but for Archer, his trips to the Sportsground have been a mixed bag.
“Maybe 50/50, maybe one or two more wins, but I have a couple of losses up there, as well,” said the tighthead.
“It is a tough place to go. The elements are always tough up there and, obviously, Connacht being a quality side.”
Any suggestion tomorrow’s return to league action will be a difficult adjustment following a fortnight of European thrills and spills is quickly discounted.
“I don’t think so, because the league is so important. If the league doesn’t go well you are not in Europe. We know that from two years ago, when we literally scraped into Europe.
“Those games are so important, so you don’t want to be hanging on to the end of the season to win those. You need momentum the whole time. Even going into Europe then, it helps a lot with a bit of momentum.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved