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Dublin: 4°C Monday 18 January 2021

'I want to fight to the end' - Foley and Munster set for last stand in Thomond

The Scarlets come to Limerick on Saturday on the final day of the Pro12 regular season.

THERE WAS A light-heartedness around Munster yesterday, even if they remain under intense pressure with a single game left in their season.

There were concerning moments during last weekend’s 27-19 win over Edinburgh in Cork, but the boost from that bonus-point victory was readily apparent around a sunny Thomond Park as Munster continued preparations for Saturday’s decisive Guinness Pro12 clash with the Scarlets.

Francis Saili Francis Saili and the Munster squad at Thomond Park yesterday. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Captain CJ Stander was in his usual good humour, cracking jokes with the assembled media, while CEO Garrett Fitzgerald shared a word with some of the Munster squad and staff.

Head coach Anthony Foley was in good spirits too, as he looked towards what will be his final fixture as the main man before the arrival of Rassie Erasmus this summer.

Not that anyone in the southern province is taking their eye off the ball this week. Now back in sixth position, Munster face the fifth-placed Scarlets on Saturday at 3pm at the same time as the seventh-placed Ospreys take on fourth-placed Ulster.

Even eighth-placed Edinburgh aren’t completely out of the picture as Munster look to ensure they confirm the top-six finish that will bring Champions Cup rugby next season.

We have to win,” says Foley succinctly, “we know that. They [the Scarlets] have to win to catch Ulster. Ospreys have to win to catch us and Ulster have to win their game, so within those two games there’s a lot at stake.

“We’re all very conscious of it but we have to keep an eye on Edinburgh as well, so it’s important that we get our job done and if we get our job done then it’s in our hands.

“Rather than looking around for other people to do you a favour, it’s in our control. You fight hard to get stuff in your control and it’s about us going out now and delivering a performance that can win the game.”

Anthony Foley Foley says Munster have to win on Saturday. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Everything coming down to a home fixture at Thomond Park seems fitting for Munster after a season in which the loyalty of their support has been tested at times by poor performances and disappointing results.

The reduced attendances at the Limerick venue have very much echoed the experiences of clubs elsewhere in Europe this season, but Foley is hopeful that home advantage will be impactful on Saturday.

The crowd of around 8,200 people at Musgrave Park last weekend was superb and though Thomond Park has somewhat lost its status as an intimidating stadium, Munster believe in the value of the home support.

“It’s about the people coming on Saturday and making sure that the voices are heard,” says Foley. “I think that’s what we had in Cork. Rather than watch the game, they participated in the game.

They got into the mood of the game and they understood the consequences of winning and losing. I think if we can get that here on Saturday that’s what we’re after.

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“To me, the volume of supporters in the ground isn’t really the point. It’s the volume that comes out of that supporter for us, as part of the team, is the more important thing.”

Foley confirmed that his players were still feeling the physical effects of the Edinburgh clash yesterday and indicated that Munster are “minding” Simon Zebo, Rory Scannell and Francis Saili for a range of bumps and bruises.

The hope is that all three will train tomorrow and it would be a surprise if they weren’t involved, given that it is Munster’s final game of the season and such a crucial one.

A general view of training Munster want Thomond Park in full voice this weekend. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

One man who won’t be playing is second row Donnacha Ryan, who continues to follow return-to-play protocols after recent concussions against Leinster and Connacht. A return date for the Ireland international remains unclear.

“I’ll leave that to the medical people,” says Foley. “It’s a doctor issue and he’s getting the best of care and a bit like anybody who goes through concussions – he’s had two on the bounce – it takes a bit longer.

“He’s got to be asymptomatic before he can return.”

Foley did confirm that talented out-half Bill Johnston is “close to being fully fit now” after shoulder surgery earlier this season and said the former Rockwell College man had taken part in an Ireland U20s training camp last weekend. Johnston would now seem highly likely to be involved in this summer’s World Rugby U20 Championship.

More pertinent for Munster right now, however, is ensuring they are fully prepared for the Scarlets on Saturday as they attempt to ensure their campaign doesn’t end in disaster.

Foley and his squad have had some tough months, but the former number eight rejects the notion that he will be glad to see the season end on Saturday.

“I’m never glad, never glad; I want to fight to the end. I want to be in every competition and try and win as many trophies as possible. That’s the way I’ve been reared.”

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Murray Kinsella

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