11 Mar 14
The Munster squad trained at a sunny CIT today after a week's break as preparations begin for the RaboDirect PRO12 clash against Treviso at Thomond Park on Saturday, March 22nd (ko 7:15pm).
Well there can be little doubt about the quality of Saturday's opponents and the signs were there for all to see of the improvement Munster management have alluded to. Tony McGahan withdrew his starting props on 65 minutes without any change in tempo and when O'Connell unfortunately limped off Mick O'Driscoll fitted in seamlessly beside Donncha O'Callaghan.
We got what is now the customary masterclass from David Wallace, a superb showing from James Coughlan who must have gathered almost every restart and a return to 'old school' stuff from the pack in the second half.
At the base of the scrum Conor Murray used the occasion of the biggest match of the year to announce himself a serious contender and just for those who have wondered about the hunger or ambition of the senior staffers check out the performance of Wallace, O'Driscoll, O'Callaghan, Peter Stringer, Marcus Horan and John Hayes when they came on and maybe most of all, Ronan O'Gara.
Never mind if you like his kicking, be it from hand or tee, that's what we've come to expect. Look at the amount of contact he takes.
On Saturday he was quite obviously targeted by Leinster who, right from the off, sent their big men, the 17+ stoners Heaslip and O'Brien charging straight down his channel time and time again. They almost sought him out. Cardiff Blues did the same last week. It's easy to find him because he never goes missing. Heaslip bounced him back a metre in one huge hit. And while they might knock him over they'll never keep him down.
Then on Saturday, with a right eye that must have been painful to keep open, he still steps up and knocks over the winning penalty from close to the touchline.
Next weekend Munster will have to reproduce that second half form if Limerick is to host an Amlin Cup semi-final. Their opponents Brive warmed up with a 29-6 home win over La Rochelle scoring three tries from Jean-Phillipe Bonrepaux, Benoit Cabello and France international Alexis Palisson.
Prior to that they put 50 points on Bourgoin and last time on the road they lost by a single point (23-22) in Toulouse.
At this stage of the season there are no easy games but this one looks a particularly tricky one for Munster.