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'You have to bring your best or you're going to be embarrassed'

Munster will need to improve vastly in the next two weeks before the Pro14 semi-final against Leinster.

Murray Kinsella reports from Thomond Park

PLENTY CAN CHANGE in the next fortnight before the teams meet at the RDS on 19 May in the Guinness Pro14 semi-finals, but right now there aren’t too many people who would confidently back Munster to beat Leinster.

That is as much a recognition of Leinster’s superb form when they can field their frontline players as it is an acknowledgement that Munster have kinks in their game to iron out.

Ben Toolis with CJ Stander and Peter O'Mahony Munster had to fight hard for yesterday's win. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Edinburgh deserve great credit for pushing Munster all the way in yesterday’s semi-final qualifier at Thomond Park before succumbing to a 20-16 defeat, but Johann van Graan’s side were far from flawless.

The work rate can rarely be questioned with Munster and they battled all afternoon in the Limerick sun, but the collective performance was error-strewn and stuttering.

They kicked the ball 40 times in total and while that did often put pressure on Edinburgh, it also invited them to counter-attack on other occasions, some of them more damaging to Munster than others.

With Leinster having looked so strong all season, barring a few blips when resting key players, Munster captain Peter O’Mahony is hopeful that taking on their inter-provincial rivals will bring out the best in his team.

“It has to,” said the Cork man yesterday at Thomond Park. “You’re playing against the best team in Europe.

“You have to bring our your best or you’re going to be in trouble and you’re going to be embarrassed because their standard and their ability to play ball is so good.”

Munster boss van Graan is hoping to have the likes of Jaco Taute and Niall Scannell available for selection for that trip to Dublin, but he appreciates the scale of the task ahead for his team.

Robin Copeland and Gerbrandt Grobler celebrate after the game Robin Copeland and Gerbrandt Grobler played their last games for Munster at Thomond Park. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We hope to have one or two guys back into the squad and I think a few teams are searching for that answer as to what to do to beat Leinster at this stage,” said van Graan.

“They’re playing incredible rugby going into the Champions Cup final, so we’ll have to do our planning very carefully because we’re going to go to Dublin and face a very, very talented and very professional outfit.

“If we’re to stand a chance of beating them, we’ll need to be at our very, very best.”

While there may be some players back from injury, the departure of Stephen Archer early on against Edinburgh due to a pectoral/bicep issue is a worry for Munster.

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They are already without John Ryan, while Brian Scott was injured during the week and that saw Shannon’s Ciaran Parker sent on against Edinburgh for just his third appearance of the season.

Parker performed well and earned respect at scrum time, but getting Archer fit will be important. Andrew Conway, meanwhile, passed a HIA in the first half against Edinburgh but subsequently “came back presenting one or two symptoms” of concussion and was removed at the interval.

Van Graan acknowledged that “one or two individualistic moments swung it in our way” against Edinburgh – namely Rhys Marshall’s try and the brilliant Simon Zebo assist for Keith Earls – and Munster will need to show more creative force against Leinster.

Following so soon after the Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Racing 92, in which Munster only fired shots after the game was realistically over, their kick-heavy tactics disappointed some supporters yesterday.

Simon Zebo and Keith Earls at the final whistle Simon Zebo and Keith Earls at the final whistle. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I thought today was an arm wrestle,” said van Graan. “In the previous play-off game [against Racing], we didn’t really have the chance in the first 15 minutes to play with more ambition because we didn’t have the ball.

“I thought we did some good things out there today, possibly one or two things we could execute better but certainly in a semi-final away from home coming up against Leinster, we might have to look at one or two things differently.”

It was interesting that van Graan and his coaches opted for JJ Hanrahan at out-half again yesterday, his second game in a row at 10 following Ian Keatley’s struggles in Bordeaux.

“JJ knocked on the door for the previous six weeks,” said the Munster head coach. “I think he deserved this opportunity and the way that we wanted to play with some of our decisions, we went with him for this game.

“I thought he did really well, one or two things to work on, but pretty happy with his performance.”

With the pressure likely to be off Munster for the semi-final in two weekends’ time, it might just be that Hanrahan and co. can finally unleash their full attacking potential.

If not, Munster could be in for a tough day.

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Murray Kinsella

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