Niall Scannell spoke for the entire Munster dressing room when he derided descriptions of the Leinster team they defeated on Monday evening as second string.
To a man, Munster players agreed this is a Leinster squad of remarkable depth and the side they overcame 29-17 would have been more than a match for most others in the Guinness PRO12 competition.
“Seven of their pack are internationals and there were some big physical men there,” declared a man who has played in every Munster match this season.
“You could feel that as the game started off at an unbelievable pace. I’ve played against Leinster a few times so I knew it wasn’t going to die down. It’s about catching your breath and analysing what’s going on.
“It’s hugely physical and we knew that was coming so there were no surprises there. It was about matching that and getting the breakdown right which was where we let ourselves down a small bit against Leicester away.
“Second strength Leinster team? If that’s their second strength team, that’s a serious team to play against and that certainly wasn’t in my mind. From my position, watching their front-row, Cian Healy, James Tracy and Tadhg Furlong, we knew we had to be up for it and get to that pitch especially at scrum-time.
“We knew how tough it was going to be and I don’t think Leinster disappointed there as it was a massively tough game.”
Wisely and typically, Munster kept the lid on their delight at taking five league points from the encounter while acknowledging they are happy to put some breathing space between themselves and their keenest rivals.
“It’s good to be top of the league and that was the bottom line going into this game against Leinster,” said Scannell. “We’re happy to be where we are after grinding out a good win over a good team.
“It was about putting up a performance against such an experienced and dangerous Leinster team. I think we did that and stuck it out for the 80 minutes. We were ahead at half-time and it would have been easy to rest there but the emphasis was on pushing on and kicking on and it was brilliant to get the bonus point and to prevent them getting one.”
Speak to any Munster player after this latest victory in front of a thronged Thomond Park stadium and you will be enthusiastically regaled about how much they love performing in such a remarkable atmosphere.
“It was a massive honour to play tonight in front of a massive, record crowd and we could feel that out there,” said Scannell. “It seems to be building and building every week and we’re really enjoying the atmosphere we’re getting from the fans. But at the end of the day, there’s a bit of expectation with that and we have to give back to them for the support they are giving us.”
They have certainly done that in spades in the European games against Glasgow and Leicester, against the Maori All Blacks and now against Leinster.
The buzz in the camp is papable, with South African Jaco Taute enjoying it as much as anyone.
However, it remains unclear whether he will be stay with the side beyond next weekend. Munster are still in negotiations with his South African side The Stormers and with the IRFU.
“I’m sure he (director of rugby Rassie Erasmus) is trying to keep Jaco.” says Scannell. “What he’s doing on the pitch is obviously brilliant and we had Frankie (Saili) back tonight and that’s also brilliant. It’s good to have that depth.
“And Rory (Niall’s brother) is also doing okay as well, I have to get that in there. Jaco is a great team man. He has bought into everything Munster.
“I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes but in terms of being a team-mate, a top-class professional, unbelievable athlete and really delivering on the pitch… that’s all you can ask of anybody in your dressing room, isn’t it?”
Munster are now nearing the middle of a hugely intensive block of matches and that presents a considerable challenge to a man so centrally involved as Scannell has been.
“Trying to keep up my physicality for 80 minutes and displaying my fitness, that’s been a good challenge for me over the last few weeks and it’s something that’s probably been new to me but positive to be doing it,” he says.
“Because the schedule is so tough, you can’t really have one eye on the next week. Now going up to the Sportsground against the reigning champions is going to be a massive task again.
“The five days turnaround is tough because there’s a huge recovery aspect, especially when they’ve had eight days.
“You have to recover and that’s what we will all be aiming to do so that we can put our best foot forward because that’s what we are going to need to do up in the Sportsground.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved