The pool battle is far from won, insists wary McGahan

AS THEY say, a pat on the back is only inches away from a kick in the backside.

Accordingly, it was no surprise that coach Tony McGahan wasn’t getting ahead of himself after Munster’s excellent performance in Sunday’s Heineken Cup victory over Sale Sharks at Edgeley Park.

He quickly rubbished suggestions that they were now in control of Pool One and rightly so, too, with the difficult assignments that still lie ahead. That said, though, the oft-stated claim that there are no easy matches in Europe is nonsense, given that Italian teams are sitting ducks no matter the opposition.

Treviso, probably the best of their teams, were hammered 60-16 at home by Leicester at the weekend and Calvisano went down 41-10 to Biarritz.

How Munster must hope that, just for once, they could find themselves in a pool from which two teams are more than likely to emerge. You can take it for granted that Cardiff Blues and either Gloucester and Biarritz will come out of Pool Six, and Leicester and either Ospreys and Perpignan will qualify in Pool Three.

Munster, and to a lesser extent Leinster, must do it the hard way year in, year out. Little wonder that McGahan isn’t counting any chickens considering that his side travels to Clermont Auvergne for their next assignment and take on the French at Thomond Park a week later. Then, in the new year, there’s a visit from revenge-seeking Sale Sharks before a potential banana-skin at Montauban.

When the draw was first made, it looked as if Leinster would also have their work cut out to reach the knockout stages. Since then, however, that’s changed utterly.

Without taking from the merit of their remarkable 41-11 thrashing of London Wasps in the RDS on Saturday, Leinster were up against a pale shadow of what Wasps were in the days of Lawrence Dallaglio.

And the fact that Edinburgh, so hapless against Michael Cheika’s team seven days earlier, could go to Castres and return victorious says it all about the French club’s interest in the Heineken Cup. The French sides that have paid lip service to the event and should be omitted until they commit themselves to the competition.

The Italian sides are out of their depth, lack sufficient financial backing and they’ll continue to suffer grievously on the scoreboard.

Meanwhile, McGahan has been left to ponder a different dilemma. Paul Warwick performed so impressively at full-back on Sunday that he should have made the berth his own, at least for now. He will be even better equipped for the task with further experience against Ulster at Ravenhill on Saturday night next, and away to the Scarlets on November 28, before the return of the Heineken Cup against Clermont Auvergne at Clermont on Sunday, December 7.

With Rua Tipoki certain to be fit within the next week or so, the situation in the three-quarter line is becoming a little crowded — initially, everybody was happy with the Doug Howlett-Tipoki-Lifeimi Mafi-Ian Dowling axis but if Warwick is to keep the number 15 jersey, that would leave Keith Earls among others, in the cold.

The youngster has been magnificent all season and should be included in Irish coach Declan Kidney’s 30-strong squad for the November internationals. He also has good reason to hope for a first cap against Canada at Thomond Park on November 8.

McGahan will be content enough with his front five, though it’s somewhat disturbing to see Tony Buckley out of favour and confined to appearances with Shannon in the AIB League.

There is also a decision to be made in the back row, where David Wallace justified the belief of his many admirers that number eight represents his best position. He relishes the idea of being able to work off first phase possession and, apart from his try, was outstanding both in defence and attack against the Sharks. Equally, though, he laughed at the idea this would be his position from now on. “A certain Mr Leamy might have something to say about that,” Wallace smiled.

Denis Leamy will be available within the next month, as should be the New Zealander Nick Williams. Both men are natural number eights so the likelihood is that Wallace will revert to seven, with Alan Quinlan at number six after another outstanding contribution against Sale.

And finally this week… seven days ago, we mentioned the view of former England hooker Brian Moore that the English Premiership was superior to the Magners and French Leagues. I wonder if he still believes that after Leinster demolished Wasps and Munster and Cardiff Blues disposed of Sale and Gloucester at the weekend.


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