There was a time when Munster would travel to Italy with a guaranteed points return against their lowly hosts.
Last week’s visit to Treviso yielded the maximum in their final European Rugby Champions Cup game of the season, and they’re back tomorrow for a Pro12 clash with Zebre.
But there is not a whiff of overconfidence, given Zebre’s impressive growing reputation with three wins in the Challenge Cup behind them, one of them away to Aviva Premiership side Worcester.
In fact, Munster’s international scrum half Tomás O’Leary sees danger signs in vivid red, noting that Zebre have overtaken Treviso in the race for a Champions Cup place next season.
O’Leary is expecting another strong performance: “We would be expecting similar. Their pack, especially their maul and scrum, they use that to win penalties, to kick to the corner and go again.
"But they have strong half-backs too, an Aussie international at nine (Luke Burgess) controlling things. We have spoken about trying to deny them momentum at source.
"That starts in the pack, we are expecting a massive physical challenge.”
With front line players missing, O’Leary is looking forward to getting a run of games from the start rather than off the bench.
“Fingers crossed! Obviously, the last few weeks, Conor (Murray) has been back and he has been playing quite well.
"In the Champions Cup I got a few cameos off the bench so I am looking forward to hopefully getting a couple of weeks’ games together.”
Having bounced back from a string of poor results, Munster need to maintain the recent form that yielded three wins from four in their quest to climb the Pro12 standings. O’Leary hopes the bad days are behind them.
“We were in a tough place. Obviously, we were aware of public opinion, the negativity around media and supporters.
"It was a tough place to be as a playing squad because what we were producing on the pitch wasn’t good enough, but we didn’t shirk responsibility.
“The Ulster game was a big performance away from home. I don’t think many teams have won up there; granted, they were missing a couple of players but they had a good side out. That was a big turning point.
“Unfortunately then the week after in Stade we were beaten by a very good Stade team and our performance wasn’t up to the (required) level. T
"he week building up to the return was tough but productive.
“We spoke about Munster values and about what people expect of the Munster jersey.
"We spoke about how we wanted to represent the jersey and I think we saw, through people’s energy and attitude in that game, it (pride) was evident.
“The crowd latched onto that as well; it was probably one of the better crowds of the year and the best atmosphere of the year and that was because the boys fronted up physically. It was a pretty dominant performance in the end.”
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