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'It looks like I had a lot of time to think, but it happens in a split-second' - Haley happy to play on instinct

The Munster fullback produced a moment of individual magic in last weekend’s win against Connacht.

Mike Haley celebrates his try against Connacht.
Mike Haley celebrates his try against Connacht.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

LIFE IS PRETTY good for Mike Haley at the moment. The Munster fullback signed a new contract with the province last week and followed that up with a superb solo effort in the win over Connacht to help his team book their place in the Pro14 final on 27 March.

That decider against Leinster comes just a week before Munster host French heavyweights Toulouse in their Champions Cup round-of-16 clash.

Those are season-defining fixtures, but Haley sounds at ease as he prepares for the business end of Munster’s season. It’s little surprise to hear he’s enjoying his rugby at the moment.

“I think I’ve actually been enjoying it all season,” he says. “I don’t really know whatever reason it is, I’m just kind of settled down a little bit and enjoying each game for what it is. They are all each kind of unique challenges. 

“If you look at the Glasgow away game (in November) for example, awful weather, but it was a fun game in terms of you have to change your style of play, you’re challenged by your surrounding factors, and it was the same again last weekend (against Connacht).

“It was a nice, dry game, obviously a tough game in terms of it was knock-out for Connacht and they were really dragging us into a brawl. So it was just enjoyable to be able to play a bit of running rugby and when the chance came I just tried to take it as well as I could.”

His try against Connacht, followed by a Joey Carbery conversion, pushed Munster into a 17-10 lead heading into the final quarter. 

Producing big moments in big games is becoming something of a habit for the 26-year-old. Haley scored Munster’s first try in their remarkable 39-31 win at Clermont earlier this season.

On that occasion he supplied the finishing touch to fine team move. The Connacht try was all his own doing. He diplomatically claims both scores were equally satisfying.

“I really enjoyed the try against Clermont. I thought that was a big moment in that game, something that was really special.

“The Clermont try and this try, simply for the moments in the games which they stood for, were massive in my career. 

You know, looking back on it (the Connacht try), it looks like I had a lot of time to think, but it happens in a split-second. It was almost like, I caught the ball, juggled it a little bit, regathered it, (Dave Heffernan) was in front of me, just tried to get away from him, give myself as much distance, and it just seemed to open up into the field, so I tried not to panic.

“Then yeah, just chip it over and it literally was a moment, a second, and it was done, or (at least) in my mind anyway. Then looking back at it, it was a bit longer.

“But yeah, it was definitely satisfying to pull something like that off.”

The challenge now is to hold on to the jersey. Munster are expected to rotate their squad for the Pro14 fixtures against Scarlets (Friday, 8pm) and Benetton (19 March), ahead of those massive games with Leinster and Toulouse.

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“I mean, if you look throughout the 15, there’s competition at every single place,” Haley continues.

“There isn’t a jersey that you could say is out-and-out somebody’s. And that’s what is probably pushing this team to be as good as it is at the moment, and I’d say without that competition there might be a bit of lackadaisical behaviour or people not pushing themselves as hard as they can in training or in the gym every day. 

‘That’s definitely something that is making me play the best I can, I would say.

“I really enjoyed playing on the weekend and I want to go again this weekend, really enjoy playing, and try and make something happen, however that happens.” 

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