Stuck between the excitement of the Champions Cup action just gone and the anticipation of the autumn Tests, it would be easy to overlook the next two rounds of league action as the Guinness PRO14 season resumes this weekend.
Yet Munster travel to interprovincial rivals Connacht this Friday evening intent on adding to the foundations they have laid over the last two weeks in Europe.
Defeats in the league at Glasgow and Leinster left the Reds looking a little rudderless in late September and early October but a draw in Castres and victory at home to Racing 92 has left the province level on points with Pool 4 leaders Leicester Tigers ahead of their home and away games with their English foes in mid-December.
And with some serious wrinkles having been ironed out in last Saturday’s 14-7 victory over Racing, Conor Murray is confident Munster are heading in the right direction as they return to their PRO14 campaign.
“We just want to keep building,” Murray said. “We’ve been building from the start of the season, integrating players into the squad and I think we’re getting a few things together.
“We’ve realised that there were things, a few little issues for the last while and we’ve tried to iron them out. Our discipline was a little bit better this week. It can always get better, you see it in the Castres game as well. It put us under severe pressure and especially against Leinster when our discipline was off. I think once we look after that, the rest of our game is definitely coming along and is going well.”
Not that the Champions Cup win over the Parisians was a cakewalk. It took a piece of individual initiative and execution from Ireland and Lions scrum-half Murray to snap the game out of an hour-long arm wrestle and finally put some points on the board as he charged down opposite number Maxime Machenaud’s kick and sprinted clear with a wonderful pick-up and score that cracked Racing’s resolve.
Andrew Conway grabbed a second try 10 minutes later, both converted by Ian Keatley and despite a late Leone Nakawara try, Munster hung on for the win.
“It was a bit worrying there for a while when it was 0-0 for so long. We had spent so much energy in the game and you look at the scoreboard and you have no reward for it,” said Murray.
“Eventually we broke through and broke them down and got a couple of scores and by the end of the game we obviously needed those scores because we made a little bit of an error towards the end of the game.
“It was going to be a really tight game... going to come down to fine margins and it did in the end.”
Munster’s ability to hold their nerve and eventually force the first significant error from their opponents was a hallmark of the hard-fought victory and Murray said it was borne of the pressure they applied on themselves in front of their home crowd at Thomond Park.
“It means an awful lot to us when we play in Thomond Park and there’s pressure there to perform and win.
"No score at 60 minutes, the pressure was mounting and you were getting tired because you’re 60 minutes into a really tough physical game and then I think you just keep digging in because you know how much it means to win at home and to perform at home.
“That could have been the reason we cracked them first. It’s just small, small margins at this level. Those evening kick-offs in Europe are amazing.”
Now the focus switches back to the league and a difficult trip to the Sportsground, where Kieran Keane’s Connacht edged out Donncha O’Callaghan’s Worcester Warriors to make it two wins from two in the Challenge Cup, a welcome change in fortunes after a poor start to the PRO14.
“They’re going really well, especially after a few European wins,” Murray said.
“With a new coach coming in, it’s always going to be difficult to continue that momentum but we know they have got really good players and not many of their players have changed so once they start clicking like they have done in their European run they’re a force to be reckoned with.”
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