Just another game? No this could end up being a crucial part of Munster's bid for a trophy

Munster take on Zebre tonight knowing every point counts in their bid for silverware.

Opportunity Knox for Jake and Keynan.
Opportunity Knox for Jake and Keynan.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

AT THE END of his first season in charge of Munster, Johann van Graan made a point that largely went unheard.

The previous year he’d steadied the ship, steering his new club to two semi-finals. Both were away from home. Both were lost.

“The biggest thing for us is that we’ve got to be able to win away,” he said. “Both semi-finals we played last year were away. So the big takeaway is you’ve got to perform throughout the season to be able to earn a home semi-final. It just makes it so much easier if you play at home.”

In the years and months since then Munster have placed an added emphasis on getting results, sometimes at the expense of experimentation.

Today in Parma (kick off 6pm, live RTE2, Premier Sports) they aim to do both. Not that it will be too hard against hapless Zebre who have yet to win a URC game this season.

Every point counts, though. Munster know the difference between hosting and travelling. They’ve yet to lose at home this season. The last thing they want is another semi-final date with Leinster in the RDS.

That’s why this evening’s game – and the six URC matches that are scheduled to follow between now and the end of March – could be vital.

Since semi-finals were introduced to this competition in the 2009/10 season, with quarter finals added to the mix in 2017/28, 22 out of those 24 games ended in a home victory.

So yes, Zebre away on a cold January may fly under the radar. Come May, they’ll think differently if they are boarding a flight to Scotland, Wales or South Africa, or preparing to welcome a visitor to Thomond Park.

Aside from all that, there’s enough going on today to keep people interested. It is not just Downing Street where people want to see who is going in and out of No10. Today Jake Flannery gets his chance, in the weeks following Ben Healy and Jack Crowley’s fine displays in the shirt.

John Hodnett has earned his right to get another opportunity in the backrow, likewise Jack O’Sullivan. You can’t fail to be excited by the prospect of seeing what wings Calvin Nash and Shane Daly will produce – while the brightest sparks of all are set to be launched from the Munster bench.

Ahern, Kendellen and Crowley could become the future of Munster in the years ahead. Nights like this are vital in accelerating their development.

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Zebre Parma: Junior Laloifi, Pierre Bruno, Erich Cronjé, Enrico Lucchin, Jacopo Trulla, Timothy O’Malley, Marcello Violi, Paolo Buonfiglio, Oliviero Fabiani, Eduardo Bello, David Sisi (CAPT) Andrea Zambonin, Liam Mitchell, Iacopo Bianchi, Renato Giammarioli

ReplacementsMassimo Ceciliani, Andrea Lovotti, Giosuè Zilocchi, Leonard Krumov, Potu Junior Leavasa, Alessandro Fusco, Antonio Rizzi, Giulio Bisegni

Munster Rugby: Matt Gallagher; Calvin Nash, Liam Coombes, Dan Goggin, Shane Daly; Jake Flannery, Neil Cronin; Jeremy Loughman, Diarmuid Barron, Keynan Knox; Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley; Jack O’Donoghue (CAPT), John Hodnett, Jack O’Sullivan

ReplacementsScott Buckley, Josh Wycherley, Roman Salanoa, Thomas Ahern, Alex Kendellen, Paddy Patterson, Jack Crowley, Chris Farrell.

Referee: Craig Evans (WRU, 26th competition game)

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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