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'It's going to be hard on the bodies': No room for error when Exeter come chasing history in Thomond Park

Exeter are aiming to record their second win on Irish soil, and take a spot in the quarters away from Munster.

Kleyn wins a line-out in Sandy Park.
Kleyn wins a line-out in Sandy Park.
Image: Inpho/Billy Stickland

JEAN KLEYN DIDN’T want to overstate the workload ahead, but yeah, “it’s going to be tough, man.”

Thoughts of Munster’s pool-opener 10-10 draw away to Exeter, complete with swirling gale and uber-physical opposition, led his questioner to ask of the hellish Saturday night match-up we can expect when the sides meet again with a Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final on the line.

“It was real tough over in Sandy Park,” says Kleyn, taking heaven and hell out of the equation and describing the earthly delights of the wind which whipped through Sandy Park that October day.

“There were a lot of one-metre carries, a lot of really hard tackles and stuff. They have a really strong pack but they carry hard and they defend hard as well. So it is going to be hard on the bodies and I expect a lot of boys will be coming in bruised on Monday morning.”

The bruises won’t bother Munster much if they are icing down wounds in the knowledge that they have a knockout Champions Cup fixture to look forward to on the last weekend in March. But to guarantee progress, they will be viciously defending their proud home record in Europe.

If the Chiefs can win and deny Munster a losing bonus point, then they will top Pool 2 and advance to the quarter-finals for a second time. It would be a landmark win for Rob Baxter’s men, as they have yet to sample victory on Irish soil after losses to Leinster and Ulster.

Munster are not concerning themselves with Exeter’s history, though. Kleyn says the southern province “are not an opposition-facing team.” Big games don’t faze this group either.

“Last weekend was the biggest game of the season and the weekend before that was the biggest,” says the soon-to-be-Irish-qualified lock with a knowing smile.

“So we are at a point in the competition where nobody can let anything slip. Just because of the points margins as well. We pick up a bonus point and (if results go our way) we end up one position higher than we would have, don’t pick up a bonus point and we are one position lower.

“So it is really at a point in the competition where no one can miss a step.”

For Kleyn many of those steps will be central to Munster’s line-out and maul. The latter area was a match-turning weapon for the southern province in Gloucester last week, but the line-out numbers have borne out a worrying trend. Munster have the lowest success rate from the line-out in this season’s tournament with a 75% return. 

The numbers don’t always spell disaster – it’s worth noting that the lowest returns came during bonus point wins over Gloucester. Even so, it’s an area Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne will be acutely aware of when the powerful Chiefs pack arrive looking for a foothold on their first visit to Limerick.

Jean Kleyn Kleyn speaking in Munster's team room in UL this week. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I think it comes down to putting a little more emphasis on things, like getting our lifts better. The setting of the maul and all that kind of stuff. The things we have been working on over the last few weeks. It is good that we are getting a little bit of a return out of it now, a return out of the work we have done.”

Of his second row partner, Kleyn adds: “Tadhg is an exceptional player. He really has stepped into the line-out calling role exceptionally well too.

I think it is just about our entire pack working together around the line out and knowing their detail. That makes Tadhg’s job all the easier when he is calling, when everyone knows their cues and is ready to go. He is an exceptional player and he is very dangerous on attack, he runs some dangerous lines. So it is good playing with him.”

“It is going to be a massive battle. There is a lot on the line for both teams. Once again, we are focused on our own set up. So it is going to be massive for us. Obviously we want to keep on our winning ways. It is going to be a real attritional battle.”

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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