Do not mention the phrase “dead rubber” in front of Mike Sherry.
Munster may be out of Europe after the debacle in Paris but such is the hurt felt throughout the squad in the wake of their sorry defeat to Stade Francais that for the hooker and his team-mates there is plenty to play for in the return fixture at Thomond Park this Saturday.
Munster still have two rounds of Champions Cup pool fixtures to complete before they wave goodbye to European competition for another season, having not won since the opening round at home to Treviso in November.
Yet it is because of the miserable form in both Europe and the Guinness Pro12 since that victory over the Italians, with just one win in eight games, that Sherry feels there is still plenty on the line when Munster lock horns once more with the French Top14 champions this weekend.
“We have everything to play for, we are playing in Thomond Park in Europe against a French team,” Sherry said. “Me personally, I am playing in a rugby team with my closest friends, playing in front of my family, my girlfriend, my friends that I went to school with, and I am playing in front of Munster supporters.
“It doesn’t matter if we are out of Europe or we got hockeyed the week before, we have got everything to play for.”
Even wrapped in their self-imposed bubble, the Munster squad and coaching staff are acutely aware of the flak they have been receiving lately from supporters and media alike, often delivered straight to Sherry’s mobile phone by the magic of Twitter. The reactions from outside to a string of defeats the poor performances must be battering confidence in the ranks.
“Possibly, we are in a vicious cycle and people are getting tense, the Munster front-rower said.
“The coaches are getting stick, the players are being criticised – are we a good enough group, do we have enough talent, heart? People are maybe tightening up and one error compounds into another.
“I do believe in us, I do believe we have enough skill, enough heart and enough talent to get out of this. It’s about trotting up and doing it now. I was in front of (the media) a few weeks ago (after the defeat at Leicester) and I feel like I am repeating myself, I am trying not to but we just need to show up week and week and do our jobs which we are not doing at the minute.” Where that necessary improvement will come from is another matter and Sherry will be without experienced tighthead BJ Botha by his side in the front row after the former Springbok went down with a knee injury early against Stade last Saturday, while fellow forwards Donnacha Ryan (knee), Tommy O’Donnell (concussion) and Jack O’Donoghue (concussion) as well as full-back Andrew Conway (hip) must all pass fit before the weekend.
Yet Sherry added: “I don’t think we will struggle to put in a performance. If you can’t perform this weekend, or you can’t get yourself up for it, I am not sure if you should play on this team.
“The performance will come from our preparation, the structures we have from actually doing our job as professional rugby players, and if we do that I think we can win.
“It’s not about us and them this weekend it’s about us. It doesn’t matter who we are playing. If we were playing Treviso away and we had lost the weekend before we’d still have the same mindset. We need a win. We need a performance and we need to show people how much it means to us and how much it means to play for Munster and what it means to this group.”
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