HEINEKEN CUP POOL SIX:
Munster v Perpignan
It was not just a heavily bruised thigh Peter O’Mahony took on board in Ireland’s gut-wrenching defeat by New Zealand 12 days ago.
With that dead leg came a deep sense of bitterness at letting slip a 19-0 lead over the world champions and then losing the Test with the last kick from All Blacks fly-half Aaron Cruden as well as the heartening feeling of having taken the best team on the rugby planet to their limit.
Now back with the province he captains, and recovered from the anatomical trauma of the day at the Aviva Stadium, the back-rower will lead Munster into their must-win Heineken Cup clash with Pool 6 leaders Perpignan on Sunday looking to use the more emotive baggage from the 24-22 reverse for a more positive outcome at Thomond Park
“You take a bit of bitterness out of the loss but you take a bit of confidence out of the way you performed as a team,” O’Mahony said.
O’Mahony, 24, declared himself fully fit and over the haematoma he suffered against the All Blacks, and which kept him out of Munster’s league win at Newport Gwent Dragons last Friday night. It was an injury he initially suffered just three or four minutes into the dramatic game in Dublin as Ireland tore into New Zealand, the three tries scored inside the opening 18 minutes easing O’Mahony’s pain until a couple of further bangs after half-time brought an end to his involvement after 56 minutes.
Defeat, as he said, had been difficult to swallow, but he added: “I had a good week last week, had a good rest and looked after the body. I put it to bed, got stuck in and it was great to be back on Monday.
“We had an overnight [Tuesday] night, so a little mini-camp for ourselves and it we got a good bit of work done over the last 48 hours, so it it’s great to be back in camp. [The leg] felt good today, I trained well and it reacted well in training. I got through all the training so I’m confident now. It was a bad dead leg but it’s reacted well and I’m happy with the way it’s gone.”
With mind and body now zoned in on Munster, O’Mahony must help his side continue its scrap to stay alive in European club rugby’s premier competition, the province having piled pressure on itself having suffered a shock defeat to pool outsiders Edinburgh in the opening game at Murrayfield on October 12.
With pool leaders Perpignan coming to Limerick this weekend, followed by a return fixture with the French Top 14 side at Stade Aimé Giral six days later, rounds three and four of the Heineken Cup pool stages are once again pivotal to the success of Munster’s season.
Not that O’Mahony is strategising over bonus points just yet.
“First things first and I know you’re probably expecting me to say it but now more than ever, the way this pool has gone, the win for us at the weekend is paramount.
“We know anything else and we’re out so it’s cup rugby from here on in. We knew that since the final whistle in Edinburgh went that it was cup rugby from then on and that’s the way we’re going to be treating it. We’ve got to go out on Sunday and get a win. There’s nothing else we can accept.”
Munster were guilty of complacency heading into that Edinburgh opener, having beaten Leinster the previous week in the RaboDirect Pro12 to cement a strong start to their league campaign.
Now top of the table, the province are in at least equally good form as a couple of months ago but such is the task they have left themselves, O’Mahony cannot conceive his side would fall into the same trap that waited for them in Scotland.
“The performance that day wasn’t good enough and as soon as the final whistle went we knew for the next five [European] games, you’ve got to win all of them.
“Obviously we would like to have two out of two now but with the cards we’ve been dealt, maybe it makes things easier for us that we know what we’ve got to do is to win every game. Maybe there’s a bit of a positive out of that, that we know exactly what we’ve got to do. Obviously that’s not ideal but we’ll just have to get on with it.”
Even with a trip to Gloucester to come in the New Year, Perpignan represent the toughest challenge of the pool for Munster, even if their style of play suggests that once the ball gets out to their backs they have a high-risk, cavalier approach that could give Munster an opportunity or two.
“Yeah, they do try things”, agreed O’Mahony, before adding, “but sometimes bits of magic come off as well. They can look awesome at times and I think they have a pack that can compete with anyone in Europe.
“They’re a big, physical pack and an excellent set-piece. The big thing at the weekend is it’s going to be a physical encounter and that’s what we’ve got to get ourselves ready for. From one to 15 we’ve got to be physical and not disappoint these guys come Sunday. They’ll be expecting it and hopefully, we’ll be able to give it to them.”
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