For all that is at stake in tonight’s Guinness PRO12 clash between Munster and Edinburgh at Musgrave Park, the game will come as a welcome escape from the travails of the past week.
When even the major coup of signing an internationally renowned rugby mind like Rassie Erasmus has made Munster look shambolic this last five days you know – if it had not dawned on you already - the organisation is in desperate need of a fresh approach. Supporters will hope the South African’s arrival as director of rugby this summer can herald such sky-blue thinking.
For now this evening’s showdown to stay alive in the fight for a Champions Cup place next season represents the chance for those outside the first-team set-up to refocus on a game current head coach Anthony Foley has been trying to concentrate on all along.
Foley was last Monday put in the impossible situation of fielding questions about “the lad”, to use his description, who would be replacing him as chief decision maker in the direction his squad would be taking once this season ends in eight days’ time.
Whatever the circumstances, his demeanour did not come across well. Then again, all that will matter to him and his players between now and then is securing the points at home against both Edinburgh and Scarlets to ensure his native province continues to operate in Europe’s premier club competition for a 22nd consecutive season.
What role Foley plays remains uncertain despite the maintenance of his job title but the head coach was not to be distracted. “I have a contract here. It’s no big deal. My whole focus is Edinburgh. This is all happening literally in the background, maybe the forefront for other people, but for us the most important thing for Munster is Edinburgh in Cork Friday...
“I’m fine. I’m put out by the fact we have a shit or get off the pot game against Edinburgh on Friday and I’m talking about something that is going to happen in July.
The fact Munster have a do or die game tonight that does not involve trophies or even play-offs but is a scrap for sixth place in the PRO12 is, of course, the essence of why Munster are bringing in Erasmus for the next three years and Foley is trying to keep an equilibrium within his orbit as he heads into two crucial games.
“We weren’t the greatest people in the world when we got to the final of the PRO12 last season, we are not the worst people in the world at the moment.
“As with players, there is a balancing act with everything and sport has a lot of ups and downs. That’s the nature of it.
“We just need to keep a very balanced view on what and who we are and make sure we get the best out of people. It is a tough place for everyone to be. Back in October, we were top of the pile, come now we are sitting in seventh spot.
“You scratch your head and wonder why, you go through it and get as many reports as you want, understand why. But we are where we are and we need to figure it out, get a result on Friday night.”
The complication, though, is Edinburgh are the team in the position in which Munster need to be come the full-time whistle on May 7. They trail the Scots on points difference in seventh with final-round opponents Scarlets in fifth place, five points ahead, and Cardiff Blues just a point behind them in eighth.
Both sides are coming off defeats, Munster having lost consecutive derbies away from home against Leinster and Connacht, while Edinburgh’s run of good form was halted at the RDS last time out a fortnight ago, all of which adds to the anxiety levels in both camps.
If you put them in an octagon and asked them to sort it out over a five-minute round of mixed martial arts you probably would not generate any greater intensity.
These are desperate times for all concerned, which makes tonight’s meeting in Cork, almost an 8,200 sell-out, as significant a fixture as these two sides have played in a long while. Having a packed house behind them will be invaluable to that end but Munster will need more than that after an error-strewn and ill-disciplined collapse at Connacht two weeks ago.
“It’s massive for us,” Foley admitted, “but you can’t load up on the players with the whole emotion, the whole weight of it. This is about getting a performance, so we need to focus in on the jobs, the small jobs, the boring jobs that nobody will really get credit for.
“We need to focus in on them and make sure our set-piece is right and make sure we control the game, make sure we make our tackles, we stay in structure, both in attack and defence. Try and go moment to moment and make sure we are the best in every moment that we come across.”
S Zebo; A Conway, F Saili, R Scannell, K Earls; J Holland, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, S Archer; Dave Foley, B Holland; D O’Callaghan, T O’Donnell, CJ Stander, captain.
M Sherry, J Cronin, J Ryan, R Copeland, J O’Donoghue, D Williams, I Keatley, R O’Mahony.
B Kinghorn; D Hoyland, M Scott, A Strauss, T Brown; J Tovey, S Kennedy; A Dickinson, R Ford, captain, WP Nel; A Bresler, B Toolis; J Ritchie, J Hardie, C Du Preez.
S McInally, R Sutherland, J Andress, A Toolis, M Bradbury, S Hidalgo-Clyne, C Dean, D Fife.
Ian Davies (Wales)
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