James Downey will be back on a ground he knows better than most of his teammates when Munster tackle Harlequins in a mammoth Heineken Cup quarter-final at the Stoop on Sunday week.
Though Downey won’t be the slightest bit in awe of Conor O’Shea’s high-flying charge, he will be wary a ground he described as “small and tight”.
After a spell at Northampton, it goes without saying that Downey holds respect for the club but having shone for visiting sides as well, the venue holds no fear for him.
Downey explained: “I’ve won there a couple of times, yes it is a tough place, small and tight; they try to intimidate, but I know you can really get into them. I’m really looking forward to it. Conor O’Shea is smart and kept the game at the Stoop. They’ll be looking to utilise home advantage but I saw them lose to Sarries at the weekend and hopefully they’ll lose again to us!”
And Downey reckons Munster can learn from Saracens’ tactics.
His observation on the 27-12 win drew this response: “Sarries play very smart rugby, maybe not the most exciting but very smart. A lot of it is kick chase and defence. Against ‘Quins it was a huge defensive effort, and I think our defence will be huge at the Stoop. The onus will be on ‘Quins to do the business.”
The focus may be mostly on Europe, but Downey insists Munster still have an eye on the semi-finals of the RaboDirect Pro12. However, that will become increasingly unattainable if they lose to Glasgow Friday night.
“No one is thinking that way,” said Downey: “The league is still there. We have to keep playing and winning. There’s no point in us losing and then going into the ‘Quins game on the back of that. We have to keep going, get the win and try to put pressure on teams above us. Obviously we have to rely on someone else making a mess of it but we must keep the pressure on.”
He sees the landscape changing for Munster following the emphatic victory over Connacht when, he says, everyone bought into the idea that losing wasn’t an option.
He also believes the players now realise they need to manage games better than earlier in the season.
“We are seeing the gaps earlier, we’re realising where the holes are and are playing a bit more ‘heads up’ rugby. If it’s on we’re going for it. We know we don’t have to always go wide. It’s about playing what you see in front of you.
Downey concluded: “There were times when players were unsure and that was showing; one or two players were missing a call. But now the fog has lifted and lads are seeing the clarity of it all.”
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