Its back to knock-out rugby for Munster when they take on a virtually full strength Cardiff Blues later today with a place in the Magners League semi final the prize for the side that holds its nerve best.
And it may be all about who blinks first although the home side hold all the aces in terms of form, player availability and history.
It’s nearly five years since Munster won in Cardiff and they arrive patently hurting from their ignominious exit from the Heineken Cup without injured skipper Paul O’Connell, his stand-in at lock Mick O’Driscoll and three of those who featured in that Heineken semi-final, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes and Keith Earls.
In addition to Flannery Munster are also without Denis Fogarty (leg injury) which means a place on the bench for Academy hooker Mike Sherry. Four of those who started last week are on the bench this time around, an indication of how hard the game was last week according to team manager Shaun Payne.
On the other hand the Blues have qualified for the Amlin Challenge final and, having lost eight of their first 12 matches this season, are now chasing a seventh succesive victory that could carry them through to the concluding stages of the Magners League at Munster’s expense.
So all in all a massive task for the reigning champions whose hooker Damien Varley spoke of the game in terms of that defeat to Biarritz. ” A loss at the semi final stage of a competition as big as the Heineken Cup is very depressing but at the end of the day our season isn’t over. We’ve a huge game this weekend. We have to re-group. We have to get our heads right and hopefully take something out of the season.
We had a good win over them (Cardiff) earlier in the season but they’ve had a great run in their last few games It’ll be tough.They’re athome. It’s Xavier Rush’ last (home) game. They’ll want to give him a good send off. But we can’t really focus too much on them. We have to look at ourselves and what we have to produce. We have to step up to the plate after last weekend.
And no that’s never easy but you just have to.That what being a professional means. You have to turn around from hard losses like last week and get yourself up for big games like this one.”
Munster: S Deasy; D Hurley, L Mafi, J de Villiers, T Gleeson; R O’Gara, P Stringer; M Horan, D Varley, T Buckley; D O’Callaghan, B Holland; N Williams, N Ronan, D Wallace. Replacements: M Sherry, D Ryan, A Quinlan, J Coughlan, T O’Leary, P Warwick, D Barnes.
Cardiff Blues: B Blair; L Halfpenny, C Laulala, J Roberts, C Czekaj; C Sweeney, D Allinson; G Jenkins, R Thomas, S Andrews; D Jones, P Tito (capt); M Molitika, M Williams, X Rush. Replacements: G Williams, J Yapp, B Davies, S Warburton, L Williams, D Flanagan, D Hewitt.
Referee: Peter Allan (SRU).