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Munster focused on 'playing the game we want to play' ahead of URC quarter-final date in Belfast

The province are the only team to beat Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium in the URC this season.

Image: Ben Brady/INPHO

ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER must-win game for Munster. This time it’s up to Belfast for a United Rugby Championship quarter-final date with Ulster, a game that will see one of the provinces sign off for the season while the other advances to the last four.

It’s a difficult trip for Munster – although more manageable than the potential long-range journey to South Africa they avoided – and comes on the back of a challenging few weeks for Johann van Graan’s side.

The province suffered penalty shootout heartbreak in their Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulouse earlier this month and followed that up with a deflating loss to a heavily-rotated Leinster side at the Aviva Stadium, missing an opportunity to secure a home URC quarter-final in the process.

They do however have a habit of ignoring the form guide and delivering big performances, and with key men Tadhg Beirne (thigh) and Andrew Conway (knee) seemingly on course to feature, they’ll make the journey north reasonably locked and loaded for what promises to be a fascinating fixture, the winners of which will play either the Stormers or Edinburgh in the semi-finals the following weekend.

Munster are the only team to beat Ulster at home in the URC this season, although their clash last month came on the back of Ulster’s own European exit to Toulouse.

“We’ve got to make sure that we play the game that we want to play,” explains attack coach, Stephen Larkham.

“We felt that we did that the last time we played against them, we felt that we controlled the territory quite well, we held the ball when we needed to hold the ball and we transferred the ball when we felt we didn’t have good momentum.

“So it’s going to be much of the same for us, making sure that our process, our systems are consistent throughout the game and we’re very conscious of their set-piece, their breakdown pressure and their kicking game.

We spoke about that a little bit this morning in terms of there is nothing if we don’t win this weekend so yeah, full concentration and focus is on making sure we get a good performance this weekend.

“We’ve spoken about the possibilities of what’s going to happen after this weekend (if Munster beat Ulster) but we don’t know so there’s no point harping on that. Guys will be ready to, you know, we’ll have a day in between where guys can pack if we have to go to South Africa or if we have to go to Edinburgh, that will be later in the week so it’s not such a big issue.

“But finals footy is always the same. You concentrate on the next game and we’ve been doing this now for the last four or five games, getting in there and concentrate on making sure we get performance this weekend and then everything after that looks after itself.”

If they are to win, Munster will need big performances from key players.

Joey Carbery has shown flashes of his old self at various stages of the season but will have been disappointed with his display against Leinster last time out.

“He was out for a long time with a couple of different injuries, but mainly his ankle, and it was really hard for him to find his groove (this season),” Larkham says.

“And I’ve certainly seen a change in his professionalism this year. Well, he hasn’t really been with the team prior to this season and I’ve had a chance to work with him on a professional level.

joey-carbery-dejected-after-the-game Carbery had a difficult day against Leinster. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“And he’s been amazing, very diligent with his preparation, takes a lot of notes in meetings, studies the way that we want to play, studies his own game, and I think he’s been progressing every game that he plays, he’s getting better and better.

“In terms of his performance this weekend, it’s like everyone, you’re not thinking individually, you’re thinking from a team perspective, and particularly as a 10 you have to make sure the team is functioning before yourself.

“And I think that’s going to be the case with Joey this week, it’s been the case every week since I’ve been working with him and I’ve no doubt that he will put in another good performance this week.”

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Larkham – who is set to leave the province and join the Brumbies this summer – also enjoys a good relationship with Munster out-half Ben Healy, who missed two penalties in that dramatic shoot-out against Toulouse. 

Considering most out-halves will never find themselves involved in a penalty shootout, it was a challenging situation for the 22-year-old. Larkham himself was a back-up kicker in his playing days but understands the mentality required to move on from such a setback and not let it affect your confidence playing in such a pivotal position.

“It’s quite unique for him as a young 22-year-old (to experience that). He can only grow from it. I think the beauty of being so young is that he’s still got a huge career ahead of him. 

When you talk about the emotional toll of that game, some of the older guys who knew that we had a really good prep going into that took that a lot harder than the younger guys who know that they’ve got potential down the track to be in another final or win another final. 

“Ben is similar to those guys, the younger guys, I think he’s processed it really well. He was very disappointed with obviously the outcome of the kicks, but the way he handled the situation was good and I think he’s got a lot of potential to play in a number of these finals again.

“I had a good chat to him the next day and he sort of bounced back, realised there is nothing he can do about it and just to get on with the job. I think we’ve seen that in his training intensity, effort and concentration over the last couple of weeks. He’s moved on really quickly from that.”

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Ciarán Kennedy

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