One of the strengths of Munster rugby over the year has been the ideology that opponents must be respected at all costs, not necessarily feared but at least respected.
Connacht haven’t always been given the respect they deserve but they do get due recognition down south and have for a long time now.
James Coughlan came through from the club ranks to provincial rugby the hard way and he sees Connacht as a nuggety opponent; tonight, at Musgrave Park, he will sing from the same hymn sheet as coach Rob Penney and several of his colleagues who know what it is to be physically and otherwise tested by the men from the west.
It doesn’t even have much to do with the fact that Connacht have enjoyed a far more decent recent record than Munster.
As Munster struggle on in a bid to qualify for the top four play-offs, Connacht have quietly been going about their business successfully and Coughlan is well aware of the differences in form.
“Yeah,” he said, “they beat Ospreys at home and they beat Zebre and went on a run of a few wins. They'll be full of confidence coming down and looking to continue that good run of games they have had. It is about us stepping up our performance and knowing it is the business end of the season. This is the first step of a new ladder that we’re on and Connacht provides the opposition.”
Eric Elwood’s side won’t be lacking in experience, with Dan Parks linking up with Kieran Marmion at half back nor in excitement through full back Robbie Henshaw. Ireland’s Mike McCarthy is named in the squad and will earn his 150th Connacht cap from the bench.
Connacht’s recent three match winning run is a cause for excitement up country. A win against Munster would give them four victories in a row for the first time since 2002.
Connacht coach Elwood hopes to seal such a deal and even though he departs at the end of the season there was good news for the province yesterday with the announcement that David McSharry has signed up for another two seasons.
Young McSharry joined Connacht in 2011 and the former Templeogue schools star had started in 16 games this season, a remarkable achievement for the 23-year-old, who made an impact when named in the Irish Wolfhounds (Ireland A) team that played the English Saxons in the Sportsground a few weeks back.
MUNSTER: F Jones; D Howlett, C Laulala, J Downey, D Hurley; R O'Gara, C Sheridan; D Kilcoyne,D Varley, S Archer; Donncha O'Callaghan, P O'Connell; T O'Donnell, S Dougall, J Coughlan.
Replacements: M Sherry, W du Preez, BJ Botha, B Holland, N Ronan, D Williams, I Keatley, I Dineen.
CONNACHT: R Henshaw, D Poolman, E Griffin, D McSharry, G Duffy (captain), D Parks, K Marmion, B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, N White, M Kearney, G Naoupu, A Browne, J Muldoon, W Faloon.
Replacements: A Flavin, D Buckley, R Loughney, M McCarthy, E McKeon, P O’Donohoe, M Nikora, F Vainikolo.
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