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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 25 April, 2019
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O'Mahony's Munster 'forging our own way' as confidence grows in Europe

Rassie Erasmus’ group are being increasingly comfortable in setting their own standards.

WITH MUNSTER, IT never takes long for current teams to be compared with what has come before.

That’s a useful tool at times, ensuring that the province never accepts mediocrity, that they always view themselves as potential trophy winners. But on other occasions, it feels like an unnecessary burden.

Billy Holland celebrates Billy Holland celebrates Munster's win over Toulouse. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

No one is getting carried away by Munster being back in the semi-finals of the Champions Cup after two seasons when they failed to advance beyond the pool stages, least of all the players themselves.

But it does feel a little bit like a big moment for this developing group, who have very few ties with the squads of 2006 and 2008.

“There’s a big difference from three or four years ago even, both sides – coaching and playing,” is captain Peter O’Mahony’s take on it after yesterday evening’s 41-16 quarter-final win over Toulouse in Limerick.

“Playing, more importantly. It’s a different group and with all that’s gone on in the club, with the trophies that have been won, the teams that have been there, the massive players we’ve had, it’s nice for us to be forging our own way a little bit.

“It’s based on our history and a huge amount of it goes back to our history, but it’s nice for us to put our stamp on it ourselves.”

There have been harsh lessons for this Munster squad in recent seasons, although the current campaign under Rassie Erasmus has largely involved winning.

What has perhaps been most impressive this season has been Munster’s resilience, their ability to deal with setbacks within games – something that had negatively affected throughout 2015/16.

Against Toulouse yesterday, there were moments where Munster could have let their mental edge slip. Conor Murray was lost late in the week, then leaders like O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Keith Earls were forced off injured.

There was the farcical awarding of a try to Toulouse in the second half, when the scoring pass from Yoann Maestri to Paul Perez was forward, but each time Munster managed to keep themselves mentally in the game.

Jaco Taute celebrates CJ Stander's try Jaco Taute shows his delight after CJ Stander dots down. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I think we’ve gotten better at taking things in our stride,” says hooker Niall Scannell. “We’re quite a young group and I think that’s been one of the massive learnings this year, but I wouldn’t say it was massively in our control [against Toulouse].

“When I came off there was still eight points in it and they are such a dangerous team that we certainly weren’t complacent in any capacity. We just have the confidence now to stick to our game plan and hopefully that will get us through if we add the work rate to it.

“I think we’ve gotten better at taking things like that in our stride in the last few months.”

Munster also believe their depth is better than before. Murray was missing yesterday and they certainly could have done with his controlling influence at times, but Duncan Williams stepped up to the mark without any fuss on his third European start.

The 30-year-old has taken more than his fair share of criticism from supporters in recent seasons, but Munster’s playing squad have always believed in his ability.

“Obviously, losing Conor – he’s probably one of the best scrum-halves in the world – was very tough,” says Scannell. “But Duncan Williams is a players’ player. He’s always there, he always leads trainings.

“I’ll be honest, as a player, I had no nerves about him whatsoever. From the outside looking in, it might seem like ‘Oh, Conor Murray is a loss,’ but we’re massively confident in Duncan and I think everyone saw there on the big stage what we can do.

“He did the same for us at the latter stages when Murray got injured two years ago and he did it again today. It wasn’t a massive surprise to any of us, but I’m still delighted for him that he did so well.”

Scannell pointed to importance impacts from the likes of Jack O’Donoghue and Dave O’Callaghan off the bench as further evidence of Munster’s improved depth, saying it is a driving factor as competition for places grows.

Erasmus’ men now await the winner of today’s quarter-final between Saracens and Glasgow, with a win for the English side meaning a home semi in the Aviva Stadium, but a Warriors win ensuring a trip to Murrayfield in the last four.

Keith Earls celebrates with his dautgher Ella May Keith Earls with his daughter Ella May. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There are three weeks before that clash, allowing the likes of O’Mahony [dead leg], Earls [back], Stander [ankle], and Murray [shoulder] time to recover, but Munster will back themselves in either case and regardless of who starts.

This new group are beginning to feel truly comfortable in forging their own way.

“It was the first quarter-final for a lot of us and there was probably fellas in the group pushing how important it was and that we haven’t done ourselves justice in this stage of Europe a lot of times,” says Scannell.

“There was lots of pressure there to get into the semis and we’re just massively excited now to get onto the semi-finals. I went into the Toulouse dressing room and I can see where they are now; it’s very tough.

“For us, we’re just happy. We know there’s still a long road ahead but we can only handle what we can handle at the moment and I thought we did a good job of that today. Onto the semis and we’re massively excited about it.”

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Murray Kinsella

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