Tommy Dickson/INPHO Craig Casey cuts his way through to score against Ospreys
# bright sparks
European campaign long gone for Munster and the future starts now
Without a Champions Cup quarter-final ahead, Munster have room to prime their squad to chase the Pro14 title.

THERE ARE WORSE things to obsess over than the European Cup and Munster’s ingrained connection with the tournament makes it difficult to avoid sifting through the ifs and buts of this campaign.

A point here, a point there – a bonus point denied, obtained or a drop goal executed – and they could easily have landed approximately where Saracens have. Another inter-pro at the quarter-final stage, a prospect so tantalising it could have overshadowed plenty of Six Nations engagements.

And yet there is no value in the southern province lingering any longer on what might have beens. Glasgow’s success on Saturday ensured Munster would be left out in the cold while European rugby marked out the top eight to convene in April.

Munster’s goal now is to be back among them in April 2021. And, before that, they can focus their attention on the Pro14 and perhaps develop a healthy taste for silverware nine years after their last trophy while putting a different hurdle between Leinster and a third straight title.

Both Peter O’Mahony and Conor Murray eagerly pointed out that Thomond Park’s 19,981 attendance for yesterday’s dead rubber was the biggest crowd of the weekend. Securing home advantage in their next knock-out appearance will be key.

ben-healy Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ben Healy enjoyed a European debut in a cameo off the bench. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Currently, Munster sit third in Pro14 Conference B but just four points off Edinburgh. Johann van Graan and Stephen Larkham can rest up the weary bodies among their squad and work to rejuvenate and sharpen aspects of their game before the next short block of games pits them against the Southern Kings, Zebre and conference rivals Scarlets.

The silver lining of a closing pool match without quarter-final ramifications was that Van Graan could present European experience the way of Jack O’Sullivan, Craig Casey and Ben Healy; young men who could help bubble up excitement in the province while the internationals are called to Abbottstown in the coming weeks.

“We’ve got back our squad,” says the head coach.

“When these guys ended that first block, against Cardiff away, they did that really well.

“And all the national guys came back and we had a good win against Ulster and then went into this 13-week block, which included six European games plus the three inter-provincials.

“Very confident about the young lads in the squad and a lot of disappointed guys not to be selected this week because everybody wants to have a go.”

dan-goggin-with-george-north Tommy Dickson / INPHO Dan Goggin with George North Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

A second silver lining will come in the business end of the season. Munster have back-to-back fixtures against Benetton in March which will now be followed by a rest week while Leinster and Ulster are in quarter-final action.

Extra little windows to recharge means the squad will not be stretched so thin and the men who make the matchday 23s will be primed to perform.

“In the previous two years we had the European quarter-final to look forward to and obviously that’s not there this year so our sole focus will be on the Pro14.

That means that you’ve got three extra weeks to prepare – without a quarter final, semi final and final week – so we’ll have to use that to our advantage and make sure we prepare pretty well towards the back end of the season.

“Come quarter final and semi final time (in the Pro14), we’ve got to make sure that are there and use the opportunities that are presented.

“But, like we learned the previous two years, if you don’t get a home semi-final you’ve got to go down to Dublin and play Leinster in a semi final.

“So our first goal will be to qualify for Europe and try to get a home semi-final, but we’ve got a lot of work to do before then.”

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel