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Dublin: -1°C Sunday 11 April 2021

'Irish people aren't arrogant by nature but we've to tell ourselves we've earned it'

Munster are starting to believe as they face into a Champions Cup semi-final with Saracens.

REWIND TO OCTOBER and remember how Rassie Erasmus assessed Munster’s chances in their Champions Cup pool.

“When look at the pool, you look for the easy games,” said the South African. “When you look at this group, you quickly realise that you are the easy game.”

Andrew Conway celebrates his try with Simon Zebo Andrew Conway and Simon Zebo celebrate the wing's try against Toulouse. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Munster director of rugby’s comments brought many knowing smiles, and few expected the southern province to emerge top of a group that also contained Glasgow, Racing 92 and Leicester.

But that’s exactly what Munster achieved, earning status as the second seeds overall, and having driven past Toulouse in the quarter-finals on Saturday, they now face into a home semi-final against defending champions Saracens in three weekends’ time.

Erasmus’ men are certainly not viewed as an easy game for anyone at this stage. They have lost just two of their last 20 games. While Saracens will deservedly be favourites for the Aviva Stadium showdown, Munster are learning how to be confident.

Irish people just aren’t arrogant by nature, but we have to tell ourselves we’ve earned this, we earned the quarter-final and we had to go and enjoy it,” said hooker Niall Scannell after Munster’s 41-16 win over Toulouse.

“Sometimes we find that hard in Munster because we’re so hard on each other around everything, trying to drive standards, and I think we have to step back and say, ‘We’ve earned this, it hasn’t been by fluke, we have to go out and enjoy it today.’

“So I think we’ve lifted that pressure off ourselves a small bit and Rassie’s helped in a massive way with that.

“He’s said, ‘As long as the effort’s there today, win, lose or draw we can hold our heads up.’ At times we’re maybe so hard on ourselves we don’t allow that to happen, so I think that’s been a massive change this year.

“So we’ll do the same for the semi-final, we’ll prepare like we have to and we’ll prepare for the next two Pro12 games as well and if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen – but that’s the kind of approach we’re taking at the moment.”

Dave OÕCallaghan tackled by Yoann Maestri and Joe Tekori Dave O'Callaghan gets wrapped up by Yoann Maestri. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It certainly feels like this Munster team have been liberated from the deep stress that has hung over Thomond Park in recent years, as the province’s struggles have looked so much worse in light of what was achieved back in the glory years of 2006 and 2008.

The comparisons are always ready and the closer this semi-final draws, the more people will reflect on previous Munster knock-out games in Dublin.

While it would be easy for the current players to get frustrated by the comparisons with times past, they are simply keen to write their own history in the red jersey.

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“I wouldn’t say it gets on my nerves,” says captain Peter O’Mahony. “I was there when they won the two trophies and it was an unbelievable part of my life too. I look back on it with fond memories and wanting to be there, wanting to get there to see the guys who had success at the club.

“That is what you want, to leave when you finish having won trophies with Munster and obviously nationally as well. I’d be massively jealous of guys who have won at Munster and it is a massive part of the group that is here now and the guys that are pushing for semis and finals.

“What has gone on in the club has a big part to do with it as well.”

O’Mahony says the Munster greats will always be welcome in their changing room and Ronan O’Gara was one of the familiar faces who dropped in post-match at Thomond Park on Saturday to share his congratulations.

Of course, talk of trophies is premature at this point, with an incredibly tough semi-final against Saracens, the defending champions, to come later this month in Dublin.

Peter O'Mahony after the game O'Mahony suffered a dead leg on Saturday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The English side were impressive in dismantling Glasgow yesterday in their own quarter-final, but Munster have built belief that they can take on anyone and win.

“You have to at this point of the tournament,” says Scannell. “It’s a semi-final, you’ve got to beat the best if you want to get through. There’s no easy game.

“It wasn’t easy against Toulouse, there’s no easy games left. You’ve just got to back yourself and take confidence as a group.

“It’s a new group, it’s a young group. We’ll take a bit of confidence going forward in what we’ve done and we know we’ve to build, there’s aspects that we have to build on for sure, to see what we can do better at.

“The calibre of opponent there now, we have to keep growing. We’re still novices around this, but if we can kick on it’ll be brilliant and we’ll have to for the semi-final.”

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Murray Kinsella

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