Into Africa, but semi-final focus remains razor sharp

Munster captain Peter O'Mahony celebrates after the game. Picture: Gary Carr

Munster’s two-week trip to South Africa will be vital to the province’s preparations for their Champions Cup semi-final in France, captain Peter O’Mahony believes.

Hopes of a first European title since 2008 have been raised following an epic quarter-final victory over three-time champions Toulon at Thomond Park on Saturday, in which O’Mahony led from the front and earned the man of the match award.

It sets up a semi-final appointment in Bordeaux on the weekend of April 21-22 against Racing 92, a reunion with Munster’s pool rivals of the past two seasons.

First, though, Munster must negotiate two Guinness PRO14 games in South Africa, leaving today for a training camp in Cape Town and playing the Southern Kings in George Saturday before taking on the Cheetahs at altitude in Bloemfontein the following Friday. Head coach Johann van Graan will take his full squad on the 12-day tour as Munster will have to hit the ground running on their return from the long-haul trip on April 15, a week before they must travel to France.

“The next two weeks will be very important,” O’Mahony said. “We will have to do a lot of work doing our video on the opposition, alongside playing the two games., And obviously the week of the semi-final will be hugely important. You can’t just skip past all the processes that we need to get ourselves right. They’re very important as well.”

O’Mahony said travelling to South Africa as European semi-finalists rather than losing quarter-finalists put much better complexion on the trip.

“Not (more) relaxing (now), certainly more enjoyable. We have two big games. It would have been a difficult one to take even though they played well, very well at times. But it would have been difficult to take, the nature of being knocked out in Europe.

“It will certainly make the next two weeks more enjoyable and we will try to enjoy ourselves and prepare accordingly for the two games and the semi-final as well.”

The Corkman also conceded that preparing away from home allowed the Munster squad to escape the growing excitement in the province as the semi-final nears.

“That is a good way of looking at it, it is intense around Limerick and Cork, all over the province, you have everyone coming up to wish you well and it is nice to be able to step back from it, keep your head down and work hard over in South Africa.”

As for the trip to France, O’Mahony added: “It’s going to be difficult. We’re going to be away from home. It will be a neutral ground but in France playing with one of the most consistent teams in Europe with a lot of pedigree. It will be hugely difficult but it’s nice to be able to say we’re there now.”

Munster lost Simon Zebo after 25 minutes, the full-back having failed to recover from a knock suffered in the first minute as he collided with opposite number Chris Ashton, just winning the foot-race to the ball as it bounced over the tryline.

When he eventually left the field he buried his head in his jersey and van Graan said: “He was upset because he really wanted to play 80 minutes and put in a great performance. To be honest, it’s like a war zone in the changing room. That was intensity, physicality from both sides. We’ve got a lot of bumps and bruises.

“We’ll reassess. Luckily we’ve only got to fly to South Africa on Monday, do a two-week tour then fly back for a European Cup semi-final, so we’ll reassess in terms of all the knocks and needs.”

Van Graan said there were no other serious concerns despite try-scoring scrum-half Conor Murray appearing to limp out of the contest with three minutes remaining.

Was Murray a worry? “He’s always a worry. He always takes a lot of knocks.

“He’s bruised up like a lot of other guys in the changing room. We wanted fresh legs on. He took a blow to the knee, one to the ribs, one to the shoulder. That’s just Conor Murray. Every single game he plays he takes a few knocks.

“We’ll reassess but at this stage, nothing seems too serious.”


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