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Another strong finish required from Munster in showstopping battle with Chiefs

The finish line is in sight and Munster have proven adept at closing over the years.

CJ Stander goes over for Munster's try in the draw at Sandy Park.
CJ Stander goes over for Munster's try in the draw at Sandy Park.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IT’S DAYS LIKE these which forged the Munster legacy in Europe.

Round six, practically the first knockout round of the tournament, consistently carries a knife-edge scenario for teams. Yet, through so many years Munster and their mettle have managed to stay the course.

Whether backed into a corner or simply needing to apply a coup de grace, Munster tend to deliver when the finish line of the long slog through the pool is in sight.

It helps being at home, as they have been for five of the past seven seasons, but their execution in these scenarios continuously reveal innate hunger for Europe. Since the scarring loss to Leicester in 2007′s round six, Munster have gone and won the last 11 pool finales.

There is usually a touch of drama or at the very least a simmering anticipation around Thomond Park on days like this as calculations are done, scrubbed and redone with results coming in from other teams in the mix for seeded spots.

Last season, torrential rain caused a three-hour delay before a red wave swept through Castres to secure a bonus point shortly after half-time. The year before, there was a distinct feelgood factor evident in the Rassie Erasmus rugby as Ian Keatley capped the scoring in a win over Racing.

There were thumping wins over Sale Sharks, Edinburgh and a Simon Zebo hat-trick in Northampton, Munster always deliver fireworks before pools are put to bed.

Perhaps it’s connected to their Miracle Match DNA. The scenario facing Johann van Graan’s men in this evening’s pool 2 showstopper against Exeter Chiefs (kick-off 17.30, Virgin Media) doesn’t quite necessitate a miracle. More of the same from Munster would do just fine.

A win will ensure progress into the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals, even a losing bonus point would suffice if they do so while denying Exeter Chiefs a try-scoring bonus of their own.

Edinburgh’s win over Montpellier last night means Munster must win and then hope for a slip-up from Racing 92 or Leinster to leave an opening for a home quarter-final.

As Premiership leaders, Exeter Chiefs won’t balk at the notion of winning in Limerick. And if they can pull level on points with Munster then their head-to-head record will take them above the southern province and into the quarter-finals at their expense.

Chris Farrell and Joey Carbery Chris Farrell challenging Joey Carbery in training. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

This is their first visit to Limerick, and after two trips to Leinster and a visit to Belfast they are yet to taste a European victory in Ireland. However, they have scrapped tooth and nail to get to this point and still have a chance. Lesser teams, sides with less belief in the club ethos, would have thrown their hat at the tournament after coming through three games without a win. But it wouldn’t be Exeter Chiefs if they weren’t working against the odds.

“We have done the most important thing, which is get to the last stage of the pool effectively in a knockout game,” said Chiefs chief Rob Baxter this week.

“It is not as simple as that, because we have to do more than just win the game. We have to collect at least a four-point gap to get level with Munster, but we have given ourselves a definite something to go over there and play for. 

We can genuinely talk this week about going and testing ourselves in one of Europe’s iconic venues against one of Europe’s iconic teams in as close to a knockout as we could get. 

“It is going to be a fantastic test for us and great to see which players want to stand up and fight. The biggest thing for us is to get emotionally recharged.”

On top of emotion, Baxter has serious quality at his disposal. Jack Nowell’s potential of playing as a forward was tossed around happily by England coach Eddie Jones this week, but from fullback, in tandem with Santiago Cordero, he can do serious damage to a defensive line’s integrity.

Peter O'Mahony leaves the field with an injury O'Mahony leaves the field after helping Munster beat Gloucester. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

The headline team news for Munster can only revolve around the growing legend of the true grit in Peter O’Mahony. Suffering a painful rib injury after powering last week’s savage dismantling of Gloucester, it appeared as though the Corkman would do well to pull through for the opening rounds of the Six Nations. Yet, eight days later, he will lead his side out into a red hot atmosphere for what looks set to be a brutally physical contest.

Last week, nobody could have personified the passion and the ‘emotional energy’ Baxter spoke of better than O’Mahony did. So his presence on the field will be invaluable for the hosts this evening, a lightning rod for team-mates and fans alike.


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“It comes from deep within,” said Van Graan when asked to pinpoint the source of the emotion which Munster balanced beautifully with precision in recent weeks.

“Games like this is why we play this game. You might win or you might lose, but one thing I can guarantee is: the effort is for the people of Munster is the most important thing.”

This side have rarely disappointed on that score.


15. Mike Haley
14. Andrew Conway
13. Chris Farrell
12. Rory Scannell
11. Keith Earls
10. Joey Carbery
9. Conor Murray

1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Niall Scannell
3. John Ryan
4. Jean Kleyn
5. Tadhg Beirne
6. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
7. Tommy O’Donnell
8. CJ Stander


16. Rhys Marshall
17. Jeremy Loughman
18. Stephen Archer
19. Billy Holland
20. Arno Botha
21. Alby Mathewson
22. Tyler Bleyendaal
23. Dan Goggin

Exeter Chiefs:

15. Jack Nowell
14. Santiago Cordero
13. Henry Slade
12. Ollie Devoto
11. Tom O’Flaherty
10. Joe Simmonds
9. Nic White

1. Alec Hepburn
2. Jack Yeandle (captain)
3. Harry Williams
4. Dave Dennis
5. Jonny Hill
6. Sam Skinner
7. Don Armand
8. Matt Kvesic


16. Luke Cowan-Dickie
17. Ben Moon
18. Greg Holmes
19. Mitch Lees
20. Sean Lonsdale
21. Jack Maunder
22. Gareth Steenson
23. Ian Whitten 

Ahead of the final weekend of European pool games, Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey look at what each of the provinces can expect, and who impressed last weekend:

Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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