Mike Sherry was correct to say this week there was plenty to play for when Munster meet Stade Francais at Thomond Park today.
The fact qualification for the Champions Cup knockout stages is not among the incentives is unfortunate given European success has, for so long, been the modus operandi of the province.
Yet the hooker, a two-year contract extension freshly signed, was speaking from the heart and that is precisely what Munster will need to summon this afternoon if they are to begin to climb out of the hole they have dug for themselves over the past two months.
Last Saturday’s capitulation in Paris plunged Anthony Foley’s squad even further into turmoil, undoing the progress made in Belfast the previous week when they halted a five-game losing streak with terrific levels of commitment, defensive steel and an ability to take their points (only nine of them, but it was meant to be a start) that had been woefully lacking.
Those traits disappeared once again last week and now Munster need a huge upturn in performance if they are to avoid a second European defeat of the campaign at Thomond Park and a fourth in succession at the stadium.
So much for the fortress and it is no surprise Foley would bite any hand that could feed him a 3-0 win over Stade this lunchtime, if only to relieve the increasing pressure.
Sherry added: “It would mean a lot. Last week was one of our best week’s work and then we didn’t produce it for 80 minutes and we have to figure out why.
“For 30 minutes (in Paris, with the score at 10-0) I was kind of, ‘we are in this, we need to change one or two things in terms of trying to influence the scoreboard but we didn’t do that’.
“A win this weekend would give a lot of confidence to the players, give a lot of belief back into the group, to the people around the group and might take a bit of pressure off our family and friends.
“I often think I would hate to be Anthony Foley because he is obviously getting an awful doing! I don’t feel it, I don’t see it. My mother and father probably feel it and see it and my kids probably see it and feel it, my wife will feel it and see it rather than me.
“We gotta play for them and we gotta play for the fact that they might get a bit of a respite for a week until maybe we lose again. It is important from our point of view that we do that.”
Foley appears to have seen the last of veteran tighthead prop BJ Botha following the serious knee injury he suffered last Saturday in this, the final few months of his contract. But he will have been relieved to recall Tommy O’Donnell to his starting line-up and both Donnacha Ryan and Jack O’Donoghue to the matchday squad after their recovery from recent knocks.
There are three changes to the side from last week’s debacle in France, Mario Sagario replacing Botha in the front row, Billy Holland replacing Robin Copeland at blindside flanker and Ronan O’Mahony starting on the left wing with Simon Zebo moving to full-back to replace the injured Andrew Conway.
Stade come to Limerick looking to close in on last-eight qualification before Pool 4 leaders Leicester visit Paris next week and are boosted by the return from illness of France lock Pascal Pape while Test team-mate Rabah Slimani starts at tighthead to boost a scrum that dominated Munster seven days ago.
No wonder Foley has called on supporters to get behind his team. Munster yesterday reported 18,000 tickets sold with the head coach adding: “It is easy to support a side on the crest of a wave, I think sometimes this is the moment we see what our supporters are about and from my experience with them these are the times where they have stood up and lifted the team.
“I just think it is important now we see our true supporters and the people who will stand by us.”
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