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The Premiership is a land of hype and glory and Munster will prove that

Munster’s consistency in Europe over the last 10 years has been disregarded. They are good enough to reach another semi-final.

Goggin celebrates the 2019 win over Exeter.
Goggin celebrates the 2019 win over Exeter.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

IT IS 14 years since Ronan O’Gara called out the English Premiership, questioning their alleged brilliance ahead of Munster’s date with Leicester. He then showed he was able to walk the walk at Welford Road.

You’d think we’d have learned. But no. Their league continues to live in a land of hype and glory and while the PRO14 doesn’t help itself with its structure and frequent name changes, Scarlets struck a blow for the competition yesterday.

Today’s it’s Munster’s turn (kick off 5.30pm, BT Sport). Yet they’re not the team on trial here. That’s Harlequins. Or more to the point, it’s England. After what happened to Northampton on Friday, then Bristol, Sale and Bath yesterday, it’s time we revisited a few home truths.

While Munster have not won this competition since 2008, they have at least won respect, consistently getting to the business end of the competition, reaching six European semi-finals in the last decade, a number bettered by just Saracens and Leinster.

Along the way, they’ve been pronounced dead not just once but three times. Remember when they missed out on the knock-outs in 2011? A spate of injuries and then retirements followed; the end of the line coming for the veterans of 2006 and 2008. But what’s often overlooked is the fact Munster recovered from that 2011 mishap by going quarter-final, semi-final, semi-final over the next three European seasons.

Then came another sporting recession in 2015 and 2016. Again the end was predicted. Again, they bounced back with three successive trips to the semis.

That’s their ceiling. Saracens, Leinster and Racing have been too good; Toulouse, Clermont and now Exeter are also ahead in the queue.

But that doesn’t constitute a crisis. Look at Scarlets and Glasgow – each of whom have been outstanding Pro14 champions in the last five years. But between them they’ve reached just one European Cup semi-final in the last decade. Munster have been in six.

Worse again, Welsh sides have managed just three knock-out appearances across the last 10 years; Scotland’s two sides have managed four visits, whereas England’s poster boys, Exeter, may have won the double last season but prior to that, they qualified for the Champions Cup quarter-finals just once.

Delve deeper into the evidence. Take Saracens and Exeter out of the equation, and it looks even worse for the Premiership – Wasps being the only other English team to reach a semi-final since Northampton lost out to Leinster in the 2011 Heineken Cup final. It isn’t just Boris Johnson and his Tory pals who aren’t that happy in Europe.

With all this in mind, we just simply aren’t buying into the narrative that Harlequins have had better preparation for today’s game than Munster. Yes, the Pro14 has a lengthy list of flaws which we’re too bored to get into here; but don’t fall into the trap of thinking the Premiership has depth from top to bottom.

It doesn’t. The European years have proven as much. So even though Harlequins have won back-to-back in their league after losing to Exeter first time out this season, you can read as little into that as you can into Munster’s seven-game winning streak in the Pro14.

Scarlets had done nothing in the league this season to suggest they’d do a number on Bath yesterday. They produced the goods, though. And Munster will do so today, not just because their backline looks better than it has done in years, helped in no small part by Conway, Earls, Farrell and Murray’s return.

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conor-murray Murray's return from Irish duty is a massive boost to Munster. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

You can’t say for certain that their front row will deliver but no doubts surround the remainder of their pack while their bench looks stronger than at any stage since the 2018 semi-final defeat to Racing.

Then again, the reason their bench was so strong that day was because the starting XV was unnecessarily weakened; Simon Zebo inexplicably being left sitting there until the second-half.

Johann van Graan has learned a bit since and has a squad that is good enough to reach another European semi-final this term. Compared to what was delivered in ’06 and ’08 that mightn’t seem much. But it is more than every English side bar Exeter can hope for.

Munster (v Harlequins):

15. Mike Haley
14. Andrew Conway
13. Chris Farrell
12. Damian de Allende
11. Keith Earls
10. JJ Hanrahan
9.  Conor Murray

1. James Cronin
2. Kevin O’Byrne
3. Stephen Archer
4. Jean Kleyn
5. Tadhg Beirne
6. Gavin Coombes
7. Peter O’Mahony Capt
8. CJ Stander.

Replacements:

16. Rhys Marshall
17. Josh Wycherley
18. John Ryan
19. Fineen Wycherley
20. Jack O’Donoghue
21. Craig Casey
22. Ben Healy
23 Rory Scannell

HARLEQUINS: Mike Brown; Nathan Earle, Luke Northmore, Ben Tapuai, Cadan Murley; Marcus Smith, Danny Care; Joe Marler, Scott Baldwin, Wilco Louw; Hugh Tizard, Glen Young; James Chisholm, Will Evans, Alex Dombrandt (capt).

Replacements: Elia Elia, Santiago Garcia Botta, Richard DeCarpentier, Tom Lawday, Scott Steele, James Lang, Ross Chisholm.

Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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