HAS IT REALLY been 10 years since the miracle match at ye olde Thomond Park?
Munster added to Ireland greatest rugby legacy in January 2003 when they beat Gloucester 33-6 and John Kelly pounced at the death to tag on the vital try bonus point for quarter final qualification.
The Reds enjoyed the feeling so much, they repeated the trick two more times in the three seasons that followed.
Rob Penney is in charge and only Donncha O’Callaghan and Ronan O’Gara remain in the Munster squad that made late heroics the norm. Unfortunately for O’Gara, he will have to watch this must-win affair from the sidelines after his ill-advised kick at Edinburgh lock Sean Cox [it earned him a one-week suspension].
Ian Keatley has the Munster 10 jersey today. Here is what he, and his Munster teammates, need to do to get to the knock-out land of milk, honey and Heineken.
Demoralise the Frenchies
Racing, as is their wont as Pool 1 also-rans, have made a raft of changes.
Juan Martin Hernadez has not even taken the trip to Limerick and the French side are more focused on domestic chores and summer recruits – Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Sexton are being courted. They have made 13 changes from the side that lost to Saracens last weekend.
Munster’s main task, if they are to get the four tries they need, is to put a try on the board in the opening 20 minutes and let the wave of Thomond emotion carry them onwards.
If Munster can replicate the opening 60 minutes from their Pro12 win over Ulster in December, and stretch it to an 80-minute, tank-emptying effort, they should be in with a shout.
Keep up the lineout dominance
The Munster lineout has operated better this season as a ball-stealing unit than one that comfortably claims possession on their own ball.
The news that Mike Sherry has been passed fit ahead of Damien Varley – very good in the loose but a suspect thrower – should boost that attacking option, especially when Keatley and Simon Zebo hit the touchlines.
Donnacha Ryan leaps to leave Steve Borthwick empty-handed. (INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
Donnacha Ryan and Donncha O’Callaghan shook Schalk Brits to his core when Saracens lost out at Thomond last month and their aim should be disrupting Benjamin Noirot as early as possible.
The Munster fans are always eager to jump on the hesitations of a visiting hooker and will not need much encouragement if the French set-piece begins to creak.
Vary the attack
We all chortled earlier in the season when we witnessed Donnacha O’Callaghan popping up on the left and right wings and fumbling crossfield kicks.
It has now become an all too regular occurrence and Donncha showed up on the left wing last week as Munster sought to add to their two tries against Edinburgh. He did not score. Munster ended with two tries.
One of the most important aspects of Keatley’s selection will be if he can bring James Downey and Keith Earls into the game a bit more. The shared responsibility in midfield could benefit Munster.
Reviving the rolling maul would help too while Tommy O’Donnell should be given licence to back himself with ball carries, and search for line breaks.
JJ Hanrahan and Casey Laulala are the back-up options but it would have been good to see someone like Luke O’Dea, a promising winger, on the bench.
If in doubt at half-time, Rob Penney should dust off a copy of that Munster v Gloucester game and tip his tactical hat to Alan Gaffney and send his team out with a rugby ball stitched up James Coughlan’s jersey.