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'The challenge is to do it against the best club team in Europe and possibly the world'

Johann van Graan knows he will find out where his Munster side truly stand in the coming two weeks.

Ryan Bailey reports from Thomond Park

IF ONLY MUNSTER could play at home every week.

While Saturday’s nine-try evisceration of an understrength and injury-ravaged Ulster was the shot in the arm Johann van Graan’s side needed after their Cardiff no-show, the bottom line is that the sterner challenges which lie ahead will provide a more accurate barometer of where they sit.

Joey Carbery Joey Carbery streaks clear for one of Munster's nine tries on Saturday night. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Munster rebounded emphatically from their defeat on the road last time out by swatting a sorry Ulster outfit aside with minimal fuss and complete disdain in Limerick, as the southern province made it three home bonus-point wins this season.

But this facile 64-7 win — their record Pro14 victory — comes with a number of caveats, not least because it was a low-key inter-pro derby, but because Munster’s home form has never been the problem.

Finding consistency of performance, particularly on the road has been their downfall in recent times, no more so than in last season’s Pro14 semi-final defeat to Leinster at the RDS.

Van Graan’s side return to the capital for Saturday’s eagerly anticipated shoot-out with their provincial rivals at the Aviva Stadium, ahead of the start of the Heineken Champions Cup opener, with Munster on the road for a daunting trip to Exeter Chiefs.

They are the real tests, and the next block of fixtures will ultimately decide the direction of Munster’s campaign, with the challenge now to replicate their strong home form on the road.

“I’ll tell you after the next two weeks,” van Graan laughed, when asked to assess where his Munster side are in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s inter-pro massacre. 

“It’s difficult to say. My belief is that you start every week from zero. I said right at the beginning, the season is so long, if you look from May to now, you can’t see it.

“The only one now is Leinster. The best side in Europe. The best side in the Pro14. What more can you say about them? Munster haven’t won in the Aviva for quite a while so it’s a great challenge from our point of view. They are a side we respect a lot. We’re looking forward to it.”

Consistency is now the key word for Munster after an up-and-down start to the season which has included three comfortable home wins, and two away horror shows, to see them lie in third in Conference A. 

“I don’t think last week [defeat to Cardiff] knocked our confidence. We are a very confident group,” van Graan continued.

“We have got big dreams and I said from the beginning, a man has got to dream big because big dreams make a man’s blood stir. It wasn’t really as confidence knock, it was more ‘Listen, that wasn’t good enough.’

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“We’ll enjoy tonight, reassess on Monday morning where we are and then go to a pretty tough challenge next Saturday.

Peter O’Mahony scores a try Peter O'Mahony scored Munster's fifth try. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I watched them [Leinster] quite a bit over the last 48 hours. Impressive side, almost their full Test side so that will be a massive challenge for us.

“All that we can control is our form and we as a squad said it is no good to go one up and one down, we want to be consistent. Consistency is one of the words that we targeted throughout pre-season, so we will look for a consistent 80-minute performance next Saturday.

“Like I said, the challenge is to do it against the best club team currently in Europe and possibly in the world, so that will be a big challenge to us and one that we are looking forward to.

“Once we started the pre-season you kinda look at the champions of Europe and the champions of Pro14. In that semi-final we came within one point, they were better than us on that day. We are looking forward to the opportunity to play against them.”

The South African agreed Saturday’s tea-time clash against Leo Cullen’s side will serve as a far more relevant gauge heading into Europe: “Most definitely. When you go away in the Aviva against the best team in Europe, it is a reality check.”

On the injury front, Munster came through Saturday relatively unscathed with Mike Haley pulling up with a tight hamstring in the captain’s run and dropping out of the squad, with Alex Wootton promoted and more than taking his chance with a try-scoring display. 

As for Munster’s new half-back pairing of Alby Mathewson and man-of-the-match Joey Carbery, van Graan smiled when asked if they would renew their partnership against Leinster in round six.

“I’ll tell you next Friday at 12!”

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Ryan Bailey

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