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Time hasn't healed Munster pain from Saracens loss, but that standard drives them on

The black shirts of the Ospreys will provide a fine proving ground for the lessons Munster learned from the Champions Cup semi-final.

IT’S NOT THAT Munster are looking beyond Ospreys, far from it, but there is a sense that they have quite a bit of unfinished business with the Aviva Stadium.

Munster players huddle after the game Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The accepted wisdom of sports psychology might be to rush to compartmentalise the games gone by, especially the bad days, but this group of Munster players are too honest with themselves to forget last month’s Champions Cup semi-final loss to Saracens.

“You learn a lot against a team like Saracens,” Erasmus said when asked if he could really take lessons from a seven-try win over an off-colour Connacht.

“Because that’s a pressurised game and if you lose that specific game you are out of the mix. A league game like this where you have already qualified, the pressure is off.”

The subject didn’t always come up  unprompted of course, the Pro12 coach of the year had earlier been asked if the fluid, free-scoring traits of recent wins, particularly the sublime offloading on show against Connacht, might have been a reaction to the suffocation at the hands of the English and European champions.

Saracens sometimes make you look like you’re playing very conservatively, but it’s sometimes a result of pressure. When I say pressure, it’s not a mental pressure, it’s just a game pressure, a situational pressure.

“So sometimes you can look very one-dimensional against Saracens but that’s not a result of your planning, it’s a result of the effective pressure they put on you.

“We are trying to take a lot from that, trying to apply that in games going forward. I’m not saying in any way that we are going to be successful doing that in the semi-final, but we certainly learned a lot from playing Saracens.


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“Little things that sometimes don’t catch the eye, even by coaches doing analysis during the week, which you see on a Monday, post-game during the review where you think: ‘the things they do there are just extra-special.’”

They have moved on to a new competition, different opponents with very different styles. But the shadow of Mark McCall’s side has served to keep them grounded even as they thrashed the deposed champions to take the league’s summit.

Jaco Taute and Peter O’Mahony leave the field Source: James Crombie/INPHO

After a few mentions of the S word by Billy Holland, who led Munster to their 19th win from 22 Pro12 matches in this campaign, it became clear that it’s a subject, an outcome, that still rankles with the squad. The pain of defeat hasn’t healed in the two weeks since the Champions Cup semi-final and that’s not about to change in the fortnight leading up to the Pro12 play-offs.

“It (the pain of defeat) will still be there in 10, 12, 20 years’ time,” says Holland.

“I’ve been around here for over 10 years and you don’t get to play in many semi-finals of Europe. Saracens are a better team than us at this point in time, but we still didn’t perform to our best. If we’d have played to our best on the day and they beat us, we’d say ‘fair play’. But we didn’t deal with the pressure well and we didn’t take opportunities, as small as they were when they came up.

“We got taught a few lessons by Saracens when we were a little bit naive. Whether we’ve learned from that, we’ll find out in two weeks’ time. We don’t know if we’ve learned from it. We haven’t been challenged in a similar game.

“Our next knock-out game we’ll find out pretty quickly.”

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Sean Farrell

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