THIS Sunday is Munster’s 100th Heineken Cup game.
Some milestone, but for Marcus Horan it’s all about retaining the trophy they won last May.
“It’s a huge game, as is any quarter-final. It was important for us as a group to come back from the Irish setup with something to play for, and we’re in contention now for two competitions, something we haven’t experienced for a few years.
“There’s a great buzz around the place; everyone was up for it last week, great to have such a high-profile match in preparation for a Heineken Cup game, it put us in good stead for Sunday.”
Recognition must be accorded Munster for their achievements to date, and for what they continue to achieve. The province is maximising its resources, and Marcus himself is an embodiment of that attitude.
Like so many on the team he is home grown, and like many of his teammates, he’s suffered from a lack of respect overseas.
However, this Sunday Marcus will be making his 68th Heineken Cup appearance and has two winner’s medals and, of course, those Grand Slam memories.
It took Munster until 2006 to make the big breakthrough, and that first win finally gained them respect and recognition, not just in Europe but worldwide. Last year’s success was confirmation that Munster is indeed a real rugby force, so that this year they are favoured to retain their title.
Horan, however, is still waiting for that universal recognition of his undoubted talents, as is his front-row colleague, John Hayes.
In the recent Six Nations games they outmuscled the French, Italians and English in successive weeks, yet it was a few early problems against the Scots and their difficulties with referee Wayne Barnes against the Welsh that drew most comment, so that even now, neither Marcus nor John is ever seen as a strong contender to start for the Lions against South Africa in June.
Given that Barnes is again the man in the middle this Sunday, will that be a problem?
“We had him for Montauban in Thomond Park; he commented afterwards on how well the scrums went, he made a point of saying it to us. Things were different against Wales, for whatever reason; I didn’t feel we were doing things any differently than for the rest of the Six Nations.
“You’ve got to adapt on the field, we didn’t — hopefully we’ll be well prepared for Sunday.”
In what way, specifically? What is it that Barnes looks for? “I think he had an issue with the scrum dropping down below the hips, which I don’t seem to have a problem with, just that when it collapsed he was blaming us.
“We’ve got to try to keep the bind up, and if we’re seen to be doing that, he can’t penalise us — but I don’t want to give too much away either!”
He never does, does he? The time will come when he — and Hayes — will finally get the kind of universal respect and recognition now accorded the team whose fortunes they have done so much to advance.
In the meantime, he will continue to do what he’s always done, prop up his corner in the tight, pop up in the corner in the loose, perhaps add to his impressive 11-try Heineken Cup count.
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