Different venues, same objective. Munster head into their final game of the season against Scarlets at Thomond Park on Saturday knowing a repeat of last weekend’s victory over Edinburgh in Cork is their singular objective.
The bonus-point win against the Scots at a sold-out Musgrave Park last Friday returned Munster’s bid for a top-six finish in the Guinness Pro12 to their control, now any kind of a victory over the Scarlets in Limerick on Saturday afternoon will be enough to hang on to sixth place and thus secure qualification for next season’s Champions Cup.
For head coach Anthony Foley, this is merely the end game of the only scenario his side were left with following their defeat at Connacht three weeks ago which meant a top-four finish and progression to the league play-offs was beyond them.
Since then, the sole focus was to win the final two games, both at home, and maintain their presence in Europe’s premier club competition for 21st consecutive year.
Beating Edinburgh has got them halfway to the promised land. A win over Scarlets, themselves still hoping to overhaul fourth placed Ulster and claim a Pro12 semi-final berth, will complete the mission.
A defeat will consign Munster to seventh or eighth place and send them into the second-tier Challenge Cup but that is not an alternative Foley is prepared to contemplate.
“Nah nah, look we’ve been going through that for a number of weeks,” Foley said yesterday at Thomond Park as the province launched their Bank of Ireland Munster Rugby Summer Camps.
“We spoke about the Connacht game, of that being pivotal, if we’d won that we’d be battling for top four, if we lose it we’re fighting for Europe.
“We knew that going into the game, so when we set out against Edinburgh we knew we had to win the game to keep top six in order.
“So we’re in the same boat this week. We need to make sure we win the game this week, otherwise we’re reliant on other people not getting results.”
Last week’s penultimate round of games has left Munster as the incumbents in sixth place with Ospreys in seventh, four points behind them, and Edinburgh in eighth and another point in arrears, the only teams that can oust them.
Ospreys host Ulster in Swansea, a game Scarlets will be hoping goes the way of their countrymen, while Edinburgh will welcome Cardiff Blues to Murrayfield as all the final-day fixtures kick off at 3pm on Saturday.
“We have to win. We know that,” Foley said. “They (Scarlets) have to win to catch Ulster. Ospreys have to win to catch us and Ulster have to win their game, so within those two games, there’s a lot at stake.
“We’re all very conscious of it but we have to keep an eye on Edinburgh as well, so it’s important that we get our job done and if we get our job done, then well, it’s in our hands. Rather than looking around for other people to do you a favour, it’s in our control, you fight hard to get stuff in your control and it’s about us going out now and delivering a performance that can win the game.”
Munster’s 27-19 win over Edinburgh was not without consequences, with Foley waiting on his backline trio of try scorers from Friday night, Rory Scannell (dead leg), Simon Zebo (jarred ankle), and Francis Saili (ribs) to overcome the knocks they suffered for the win as he looks to select from the same squad that was available to him last week.
“They’re literally bruises, so we just need to mind them. There is no point in getting a re-bleed in there, that’s just a time management thing. So hopefully they’ll all train on Thursday.”
Foley, though, confirmed that Ireland lock Donnacha Ryan was continuing to negotiate the return to play protocols from the concussion he suffered in Galway against Connacht.
“Donnacha hasn’t trained so he’s still on the return to play protocols so the likelihood (of him facing Scarlets) would be very, very slim.
“It’s a doctor issue and he’s getting the best of care and a bit like anybody who goes through concussions, he’s had two on the bounce, it takes a bit longer. He’s got to be asymptomatic before he can return.”
Of those able to play the final game of the season, Foley added: “Bodies are sore. They put in a massive effort on Friday night in Cork.
“At the moment, it’s around making sure there is enough juice to get through another 80 minutes and we have the ability to have a similar performance.
“Because you have the physical energy out on the pitch.
“Then you have the excitement, then there’s the pressure and that takes a lot of energy out of the players.”
Here’s a little extra sport. Watch the latest BallTalk for the best sports chat and analysis: Premier League Flops of the Season
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved