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Munster confident out-half Ian Keatley will step up in Pro12 finale

After missing five of his seven kicks last weekend, Keatley will be under pressure to deliver in Belfast.

IT’S NEVER EASY being the man with the number 10 on your jersey.

The nature of the out-half position means your every action is at the epicentre of the game, wholly decisive, totally visible and therefore more noticeable when things go right or wrong.

Ian Keatley Keatley had a tough day from the tee last weekend. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

When the place-kicking burden is added to the workload, the possibility for both praise and criticism are increased even further.

Ian Keatley knew all of that before last weekend, but his two-from-seven return off the tee during Munster’s narrow semi-final win over the Ospreys last weekend has seen the 28-year-old take a fair amount of flak.

He’s enjoyed the very opposite on occasions this season so will be only too aware of how quickly perceptions can change, a shift he will be confident of ensuring with a strong performance against Glasgow in Saturday’s Guinness Pro12 final against Glasgow.

Still, the fact is that Keatley left behind a potential 12 points with his place-kicking misses last time out against the Ospreys, a cause for concern in some quarters.

That’s one way to look at it,” said Munster head coach Anthony Foley at Thomond Park yesterday after his side had trained.

“I’m not sure Keats was anyway involved with the [Rhys] Webb try or the [Jeff] Hassler try. I think they were the more worrying things for us, the fact that we gave up 12 points very easily and brought them back into the game.”

Foley pointed out that the kicking conditions in Limerick last weekend were far from ideal, although he did add that the weather wasn’t an excuse for Keatley.

JJ Hanrahan comes on for Ian Keatley Keatley was replaced by JJ Hanrahan late in the game. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We were out on the pitch beforehand and we couldn’t tell which way the wind was blowing. You take into account [Dan] Biggar missing a kick as well, and JJ [Hanrahan] missing a kick in front of the posts, so it wasn’t an easy day for the place kickers out in Thomond Park.

“The wind was moving all over the place on the day, so we take that into account. We won’t use it as an excuse for Ian. Ian will go away and he’ll get his head down and make sure that he’s fully confident going into the weekend for the kicks as well, because it is an important weekend for us.

It’s important that those three, six, nines are put over the bar.”

In short, the Munster head coach has no doubt that Keatley is the man to guide Munster around the pitch in the 10 shirt against Gregor Townsend’s Warriors this weekend at Kingspan Stadium.

“He did it yesterday [Monday], he did it today [Tuesday],” said Foley. “It’ll continue on Thursday and it’ll continue on Saturday.”

Perhaps as important as the faith of his head coach is the trust of the players around Keatley. The out-half is so often the man making the biggest calls of all out on the pitch, therefore requiring full buy-in from his teammates.

Ian Keatley Keatley in training at Thomond Park yesterday. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

In that sense, it’s no surprise that captain Peter O’Mahony also stood up for the Munster out-half after yesterday’s training session in Limerick. Indeed, the Ireland back row is fully confident in Keatley’s ability to deliver as the province look for their first senior trophy since 2011.

“He did [have a bad day against the Ospreys], but we all have those days,” said O’Mahony.

Unfortunately for him, because he kicks it’s a little bit more in the spotlight but these things happen to all of us. He’s strong-minded enough to put that to bed and I know for a fact that he’ll have a big week this week.

“He’s a big leader for us and there’s no issues there. He’s had a great season, a super season, and he’s a super footballer. I think one performance like that doesn’t make him a bad player overnight.

“He’s a quality professional, so there’ll be no fear of him this week. He’ll be looking to put things right and play as well as he can for Munster this weekend.”

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Murray Kinsella

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