IT’S back to the drawing board for Munster, back to the hard grind in the knowledge that a European dream is over and that they are in danger of finishing the season as also-rans.
But after his youthful side ruthlessly pulled off the rugby coup of the year, Harlequins’ director of rugby Conor O’Shea warned Munster’s next rivals to watch their step: “I would give no advice to a team (Munster) that’s about 15 points clear in the Magners League other than to say that hasn’t happened by accident.”
O’Shea believes they will bounce back, however: “They’re a very good side and our guys were in the dressing room looking to swap jerseys, the full extent of what we’ve achieved by this win will probably sink in later.”
But if O’Shea showed huge respect for Munster, he also insisted that Harlequins had never travelled to Limerick to make up the numbers.
“I’ve seen some of the rugby we’ve tried to play this year and we’ve all stuck to those principles and come away with some gut wrenching defeats. I’m delighted because we had some goals of winning silverware and qualifying for the Heineken Cup.”
That qualification will only come if Harlequins beat Stade Francais in the May 20 decider in Cardiff and O’Shea is aware that his side might have to repeat the heroics of Saturday.
Self belief, he revealed, played a massive part in the success at Thomond Park. “I asked the players to look at their individual opponents and asked them to try to win the individual battle, asked them to go minute by minute and see where it took them.”
He also paid tribute to his skipper Chris Robshaw and said the Man-of-the-Match deserves an English call-up. “How that guy is not involved in the England set-up is beyond any comprehension because he is an absolute phenomenon. It’s like having a guy like David Wallace on your team, when you have them and when the players around them know them then you just say they are one off players.”
Munster’s Tony McGahan was unable to single out such a candidate for greatness following an appalling team performance with his words of praise were reserved for the visitors: “You need to give Harlequins credit for the way they turned up here and for their game plan. They were terrific with the spirit which they showed, and also in terms of the breakdown and defence. You need to give full credit to them.
“They played exceptionally well. We really stood off them, and showed an inability to make first up tackles. We held back and they continued to build momentum. It was a like a training run for them at times.
“I don’t think we got past two phases in the first-half and we conceded 11 turnovers. You’re not going to put any doubt in the minds of a side playing away from home in a semi-final when you play like that.”
The coach now has to help the group get over the trauma of only their second European defeat at Thomond Park in 16 years.
“There is no returning, there is no next week. It’s not like the league where you get the opportunity to redeem yourself. We need to look forward to next week with Connacht here at home. There are a number of players who are leaving who have been long servants of the club, and other players who are moving on also. We need to get ourselves right. Mentally we need to dwell on this, but we (also) have to get over it. We’ve got a semi-final at home, and we certainly can’t put in a performance like that in two weeks time.”
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