MUNSTER will look to their forward pack as never before to steer them safely through tonight’s Heineken Cup storm against French champions Perpignan.
Veteran flanker Alan Quinlan believes Munster will have to adapt to the demands of English referee Wayne Barnes as much as standing up to one of the most physical sides in the northern hemisphere.
Once upon a time the visit of a French team to Thomond Park, no matter what the reputation, might not have set so many alarm bells ringing, but a combination of factors leaves Quinlan in no doubt that everything must fall perfectly into place for Munster to succeed tonight.
“They’re a top quality team, (they’re) not French champions for nothing, they have a last of internationals in the team and some quality youngsters too. They’re very strong, no point in thinking or saying otherwise.
“It’s going to be one of the most physical challenges we have had to face in the last few years because they’re so big and strong in every area of the forward pack. It doesn’t get any easier (in this competition), the standard is improving all the time; we have had to play in a lot of tough groups over the years and this is right up there as being amongst the toughest. They also have a lot of good ball carriers, so it really needs for us to get just about everything right on the night..”
Tonight’s game will be refereed by a man, Wayne Barnes, who would not be high on Munster’s list of favourites, although Quinlan would disagree with the fans on that assessment.
“He’s a good referee. He’s very clear and decisive in what he says,” said Quinlan.
“Quite honestly, it’s quite difficult for the referees now because there’s definitely a bit more of a contest allowed at the breakdown. There are lots of opinions as to the laws at the breakdown and I suppose the reading of those laws.
“Certainly for players it’s great that you can have a contest there now, but as a spectacle I’m not sure. A lot of ball is being slowed down and we struggled with it at the weekend (against Ospreys). They slowed down a lot of our possession and we have to make sure that doesn’t happen again this weekend; we simply have to be more clinical because we are expecting their back row to be very competitive.
“They just don’t rely on the forwards either; their backs tend to swarm in to help at the breakdown when there is the slightest hint that they might win possession.”
Quinlan believes the recent positive experience of Munster’s international players in the autumn Tests will be of significant benefit to the cause. “Matches at this level are coming closer and closer to Test standards; certainly if you want to get results then most aspects of your play has to be at the higher end of the scale. Although we have had a patchy run, the international lads are coming back off a high and there has been a good buzz this week. That’s really a positive.”
Having been down hard roads before, Quinlan is, nevertheless, hoping to see Christmas with a huge burden lifted. He would be delighted to have three Heineken Cup wins from four and is aiming to achieve no less than that with a double over the French champs.
“We have to set goals,” he said, “but the nature of this group is that you have to take every game on its own and not look too far ahead. We have qualified out of groups in the past on a couple of occasions after losing two games, so one more defeat might not be the end of the world. For now, we can only concentrate on one game at a time and we’re in no position to look too far ahead, especially with our form being a bit patchy.
“But it is a massive couple of weeks and the ideal would be to win both matches against Perpignan; to put them out of the competition and leave it come down to a straight shoot out between ourselves and Northampton.”
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