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All Black Saili gives Munster 'something different' as his fitness grows

Rassie Erasmus’ men are looking to secure a home quarter-final at Thomond Park this weekend.

JACO TAUTE HAS been outstanding for Munster since arriving in September, and has won over the province’s supporters, but he now has real competition for his place in the starting XV.

It’s exciting for Munster to have Francis Saili back in the mix, the return of a twice-capped All Black adding another dangerous element to their attack.

Francis Saili celebrates after the match Saili scored the winning try last weekend in Glasgow. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Saili’s excellent finish against Glasgow last weekend, after he had worked hard to get outside Keith Earls, was an illustration that the 25-year-old is hungry to prove himself after his first season had left some of Munster’s fans unconvinced.

Coming back into a set-up that is brimming with confidence, Saili will feel that he can now prosper. He looks to be in prime physical condition – lean and explosive – and his team-mates are glad to see him back from his shoulder trouble.

“He’s a massive player in this team and he brings a lot of energy when he gets on or when he starts,” says CJ Stander. “He’s a guy that’s always positive, always works hard for the team, always comes up with a new play.

“When you’ve got someone on your team like that, just to see something different that you didn’t see maybe, it’s massive. He works hard, he’s an unbelievable player, works hard in defence and attack.

“It’s good to have the competition because everyone wants that jersey and if you drop one week then you’re probably going to have watch the next week from the side.”

Saili has made three replacement appearances and one start since returning from injury on St. Stephen’s Day, with this weekend’s clash with Racing 92 at Thomond Park perhaps providing an opportunity to start again.

As Rassie Erasmus’ men attempt to continue their impressive momentum, the return of Saili has been timely and he will expect to play a major role moving forward.

Munster’s Donnacha Ryan CJ Stander  and John Ryan Munster are looking to secure a home quarter-final. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

A win in Limerick on Saturday would secure Munster a home quarter-final, of course, with their progress into the knockout stages having already been confirmed last weekend in Scotstoun.

The memory of the 2014 Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Toulouse at Thomond Park remains strong and earning another occasion like that is a major motivation for Munster.

They will have a sold-out crowd of 26,200 people watching their efforts this weekend, and Stander says Munster want to repay the support.

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“It’s a special place. The experience there, you get out and it’s a sea of red and I’m massively proud to be in a set-up like this, where you see supporters that keep giving everything.

“That brings you back and makes you think about your game and the need to keep giving everything for them because they travel over [to Glasgow] and they’ll be in Thomond Park in full flight.

“You don’t want to disappoint them, it’s a special place and I think everyone’s going to want to work hard to get back there [for a quarter-final]. But on the flip side, if we don’t get there, we’ll just keep on doing what we’re doing and keep up the hard work.”

A home quarter-final would be a superb achievement for director of rugby Erasmus in his first season in charge of Munster.

Rassie Erasmus Erasmus has been an impressive presence so far. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

He has insisted since first arriving to start his three-year contract that Munster will take time to fully realise their potential, but this first campaign has been highly encouraging so far.

“He just wants us to go out there and play your game and enjoy it in the first place,” says Stander of the Munster boss.

“He wants you to try your best and try something and make it work and if we fail, well, if we’ve worked hard at it he’s happy with it and if we go at it half-arsed he’s not happy.

“He’s a direct man, he wants the best for the team and he’ll always pick the best player to do that at that stage.

“He’s a guy that brings excitement but also he brings planning, so we come in on a Monday to work hard for the week and come Saturday you just want to be physical and perform for him, Jacques, Felix and Fla because they work so hard.”

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Murray Kinsella

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