MUNSTER coach Tony McGahan and captain Paul O’Connell last night spoke positively about Peter Stringer’s prospects of replacing the injured Tomás O’Leary on the Lions tour of South Africa and his magnificent record over the years entitles him to every consideration.
Obviously, a big performance for Munster against Leinster in the Heineken Cup semi-final at Croke Park on Saturday night would be a massive boost to Stringer’s chances. Just as Keith Earls and Alan Quinlan took their chance to catch coach Ian McGeechan’s eye in Munster’s recent game against the Ospreys, Stringer can do likewise on this occasion.
“Anything is possible, looking at where Keith Earls and Alan Quinlan have come from,” said McGahan. “With no real time in the Six Nations with Ireland, both have progressed to the Lions jersey through good performances with Munster. If we play well enough on Saturday and Peter is part of that, he has as good a chance as the other contenders.”
O’Connell, of course, will captain the Lions in South Africa and he commented: “I presume they haven’t picked a replacement yet for Tomás so I presume it’s down to performances. Any scrum-half can play his way in now.”
Although the squad got through a lot of hard work in their two sessions at UL yesterday and had no new injuries to report, the despondency that enveloped everybody after Tomás O’Leary’s injury, hasn’t yet cleared. Equally, though, McGahan is intent on keeping his players’ minds very much on Saturday’s game.
“Of course, Tomás is a very popular member of the squad,” he said. “He has taken his chance in the last 18 months to play very good rugby with Munster and also breaking into the Ireland set-up. With regard to any member of the squad having an injury like this, it would create a bit of sorrow for the person in that position. We’ve got on with things today but Tomás will be in our thoughts for the rest of the week and for the rest of the season.”
One of the most fascinating aspects of the game is provided by the intimate knowledge the sides have of each other. The rival players are, generally, good friends, and they have played for and against each other so often that there can be few secrets between them, a point not lost on Tony McGahan.
“We’re well versed in what Leinster are doing and have a pretty good idea of what they are going to put forward,” he commented.
“I know they could come up with a few different combinations but, at this stage, for us to be successful, we need to concentrate on what we can do well and that will be our whole focus. What they come up with, whether it’s one or two changes, it will be irrelevant for us at the end of the day.”
Even though Munster triumphed in the two Magners League games already this season, the view has gone out that Leinster enjoyed an edge in the scrummaging duel, especially in the more recent clash three weeks ago.
But McGahan wasn’t conceding that point: “We’re not doing anything more than normal,” he insisted. “We had a good hit out last Friday. Obviously the Leinster game was there before the Ospreys who have a formidable forward pack themselves so, look, it’s certainly an area we would like to be going forward along with some other areas but we haven’t devoted any extra time to it.
“You’re down to a two-horse race. Someone had to be favourites and someone had to be underdogs. If you wind back three years to the semi-final in 2005/06 it was the other way around. It didn’t really affect us that we were underdogs. Whether it affected Leinster I don’t know. Coming into this game, we’ve been carrying the fact we’re seen as favourites for most of the season so it certainly doesn’t have any affect on us. We don’t wear any tag whatsoever. It’s other people putting that on us. We have no control over it.”
For the rival coaches, McGahan and fellow Aussie Michael Cheika, it will be their first time leading their teams into battle at Croke Park and it’s an occasion they will try to relish as much as possible in spite of all that’s at stake.
“Whether it’s staff, management or players from both sides, they’ll be excited,” said McGahan. “I think it will be a very special occasion, a once-off. To get the opportunity to play at the venue in such an important game with the capacity crowd will be something special to hold on to.”
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