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# Priorities
'We won’t speak about Europe until after this next game. Seriously!'
Munster set to focus on league points this Friday in a bid to build momentum into Europe.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 28th 2022, 3:16 PM

THE BIGGEST GAME in Munster’s diary next month? It has to be Toulouse on Sunday week, hasn’t it? Or surely Leinster in their traditional St Stephen’s Day clash?

If we told you the answer to this trick question is Edinburgh in a round 9 URC fixture this Friday, you’d scoff.

Except we aren’t the quiz master asking the question. Instead it is Graham Rowntree, the Munster head coach.

Resting players and planning ahead isn’t his priority anymore. A bigger job awaits before then. Munster are ninth in the URC, well shy of expectations, six points shy of Friday’s opponent, Edinburgh. Having already lost five times this season, and with a double-date in South Africa, a trip to Ulster and that derby with Leinster to come, they cannot afford to pick and choose when to get serious, and when to downgrade certain fixtures.

“We have got a huge one Friday night,” Rowntree said. “I have got to pick the right team because we have got a few bangs. I look at Edinburgh and Glasgow’s selection this weekend, they have obviously been saving a few guys. We have got a big challenge.”

joey-carbery-with-jack-carty-after-the-game Morgan Treacy / INPHO Respect: Joey Carbery and Jack Carty. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

The challenge, in short, is to qualify for Champions Cup rugby again next season and play-off rugby this term. More than that, it is a challenge to stay relevant for unless results keep coming, they will slip below the radar.

That’s why the priority list has been altered. Munster play Toulouse in the Champions Cup in 13 days-time but that can wait. “We won’t speak about Europe,” said Rowntree. “Seriously, we won’t speak about Europe until after this next game. We will see who comes through Friday night. Let’s build on this momentum next Friday night and then Europe will take care of itself.”

Momentum was the key word on Saturday after Munster defeated Connacht 24-17. It is clear the win over the Springboks in Pairc ui Chaoimh ignited a spark. Saturday’s derby victory in Thomond Park kept the home fires burning.

“You get more points for this win over Connacht than we did for the one against South Africa, more league points for it, so I will take that,” Rowntree said. “Unfortunately, we got no league points for South Africa, I did ask for them!

“But it certainly felt like a momentum changer on the night (in Cork). Some of the guys said it was the best game they ever played in terms of atmosphere. We needed it.

“It was important for the club on so many fronts. It was just such an incredible night; the crowd were excellent, it is a great stadium. It was a case of maintaining momentum for this game. Tonight was not perfect but we got the win.”

For Connacht, defeat means they are now 13th in the table, five points off the play-off places. They face Benetton this Saturday, the team coincidentally who hold that final play-off position.

“We picked a side last Saturday that could definitely go toe to toe and I thought physically we did,” Andy Friend, their director of rugby, said.

“It was just some of our decisions and some of our execution. I thought we let ourselves down. At the same time, we opened up doors and Munster were good enough to take it.

“They’re building their season now so after that South African win that’s another win for them and you can see them growing in confidence. They’re a good side if you let them be.” 

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Connacht too are a good side. The irritation is that they don’t always believe that.

“We’ve won three games out of eight now, which is not what we were expecting and not what we wanted so we’ve got a bit of work to do,” said Friend, who has the comfort of knowing the second half of the season will be considerably easier than the first.

Essentially five of their toughest six fixtures in the calendar are already out of the way. As it happens, they lost all five, Ulster and Munster away, Leinster at home, Bulls and Stormers away.

Next it’s Benetton, a must-win.

“They are a good side,” said Friend. “We saw on Saturday against a good Edinburgh side they had a bonus-point win, 24-17, and they got a red card pretty early in the game.

“Their whole pack are internationals so I’d imagine those blokes will turn up next weekend, so it’s a big ask. They’ve got their tails up and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

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