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'I'm not going to sit here and say that it's ideal, I'd love to have the whole ticket named for next year'

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony discusses the province’s search for Johann van Graan’s successor as head coach.

Munster captain Peter O'Mahony.
Munster captain Peter O'Mahony.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

COMING OFF A painful defeat and missing a handful of key players, Munster’s preparation for Saturday’s Champions Cup tie away to Exeter has been far from ideal, but time and again the province have used situations like this to produce something special on the European stage.

Saturday’s United Rugby Championship loss to Leinster at Thomond Park turned into an alarmingly one-sided affair, the visitors pulling clear after a closely-fought first half.

Munster are now tasked with picking themselves us from that experience and producing a more rounded performance in Exeter this weekend in the Champions Cup round of 16, a contest they will have to negotiate minus the services of Tadhg Beirne, Andrew Conway, Gavin Coombes and Dave Kilcoyne.

Yesterday, senior coach Stephen Larkham admitted Coombes is “unlikely” to be fit for next weekend’s return leg at Thomond Park, and wasn’t overly optimistic on the others returning in time for that second leg clash.  

“It’s never easy losing guys like that,” admits the Munster captain, Peter O’Mahony.

“There is plenty of guys banging on the head coach’s door for however many months or years and guys get a shot now and guys have got to take the opportunity and put their hand up. It’s no different now, you need a squad, you need a squad effort. These things are inevitable, you never play off a full deck. Very rarely if ever, you have a full deck. You’ve got to have guys ready to play at the weekend in these big games.”

peter-omahony-and-ben-healy-are-dejected-after-the-game Munster were well beaten by Leinster last weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

 As well as their storied history of upsetting in the odds in Europe, Munster can take inspiration from more recent experiences. Earlier this season, after an ill-fated trip to South Africa saw much of the senior squad stranded in the country or struck down with Covid, the province took a makeshift squad to Coventry for a Champions Cup meeting with Wasps, only to pull off an unlikely, famous win on the road.

Munster will need some of their younger, less experienced players to step up again at Sandy Park, but this is a squad well used to dealing with disruption.

“I think that (Wasps) week will be important for the club for a long time,” O’Mahony continues.

Obviously it was a very one-off scenario. It doesn’t happen very often but moments like that and weeks like that don’t just happen and go away.  That will stay with those young guys, that will stay with the older lads and it will stay with that coaching group for a long time. It will stay with the club and past players. It was like winning something in itself that day and those things matter going forward. For I don’t know how many years, people will be talking about that.

“So that’s something we’ll always reference and go back to. I’m sure our Academy guys, going forward, will be showing clips of how young guys performed on one of the utmost high pressure environments. When you’re called up, when you need to do a job, there’s some things that you can do which are special and that was a special week. That’s very important to us, yeah.”

Munster have more long-term concerns to deal with too, with the province yet to make an announcement regarding Johann van Graan’s successor as head coach.

Almost four months have passed since it was confirmed that Van Graan would be leaving to join Bath at the end of the current campaign, with supporters still in the dark about who will be calling the shots next season.

And O’Mahony admits that uncertainty can seep into the playing group too.

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“Look, it’s obviously not ideal but from a player’s point of view, from my point of view, I certainly have enough on my plate and we have enough on our plate with regard to obviously reviewing the game last weekend and then getting on to a hugely exciting and an incredibly big test in Europe, going to Exeter this weekend.

You know, rugby is about being big in the moment and rugby is about being in the week that you’re in and there’ll always be noise and there’ll always be people talking about this and that, and there’ll be some players talking about it I’d imagine, worrying about it, but I think the good guys, good players, they focus on the week and the task that’s ahead and they don’t get their attention taking away from what really matters.

“And I think luckily we have a huge group of that calibre of player involved with us that we won’t be taken off task. 

“I’m not going to sit here and say that it’s ideal, I’d love to have the whole ticket named for next year, but that’s not the way life or these things work and there’s a huge process in the background to get these things sorted and I’m sure the people who are put in charge of that are doing the best they can and trying to get it done, so we just have to worry about Saturday.” 

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Ciarán Kennedy

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