Llanelli in Stradey Park - well they don't come much bigger than that!! The pre-season games with 3 Halves and 5 Quarters and 40 subs are over - the real games are about to begin! There will be 10,000 people in Stradey on Saturday night so we are under no illusions as to how difficult a task we face. Llanelli have been a major force in European rugby over the past number of years. We met them in Thomand Park last year in the Celtic League Quarter Final. It was an extremely tight match and a piece of Mike Prendergast opportunism was the difference between the sides.
Llanelli had three titanic struggles with Leicester in last year's European Cup. The spoils were shared in the group stages with two home wins and but for a massive penalty by Tim Stimpson in the Semi Final, Llanelli would have reached the European Final. So they're good - be warned!!
Pre Season Games - In the first game we played the Bristol Shoguns in Thomand Park. The first half was typical start of season stuff with plenty of handling errors but second half we started to play some nice patterns and ran out easy winners for a finish. It was a relatively encouraging start. One thing I did notice about Bristol was how big they were - they were huge! I don't know what sort of weight training they do but it's working. I also noticed how influential the Thomand Park crowd are. They really give Munster a huge lift and put the opposition off their game.
The second warm up game was a different story. We played Connacht last Friday in Galway in a 3 period game. Connacht ran out winners by 40 - 33. Some of our play was disappointing but provided we learn from our mistakes it could in fact be more important than the Bristol game. Obviously we were missing a lot of players away on National duty but that isn't really an excuse. It should be pointed out that Connacht are a good side. They performed well in Europe last year and have recruited some very good young players over the summer. They were definitely "more up for it" than we were. That is something we are going to have to get used to - Munster are now a scalp. I managed to play the last period which was something of a relief. I tore ankle ligaments 6 weeks ago so it was nice to be back on the pitch.
I have to admit I felt pretty old with the likes of Frank Murphy and Diarmud O Riordan along side me - lets just say there is more than a decade between us! One of the benefits of the warm up games was that a lot of young players got to play for Munster for the first time. I remember Mick Galway saying that "any day you pull on the Munster Jersey is a great day". It's true - I've played 50 games for Munster and if anything you cherish it more as you get older.
Celtic League - This is the second year of the Celtic League. A lot of people doubted the value of the competition but the "Doubting Thomas's" were well and truly shut up when 30,000 people attended the final at Lansdowne Road last December. Leinster deservedly won the inaugural final and I'm sure they will be anxious to defend their title. The structure of this year's competition will make it difficult for the Irish Provinces. For instance this weekend Munster will have all the Irish Squad members available for Llanelli. However they will then miss the next three matches due the World Cup Qualifying matches. That means that some players that are dropped for this weekend will come back into the team for the matches against Ebbw Vale, Edinburgh and Ulster.
It's going to be a bit of an emotional roller-coaster but its vital that everybody stays positive. Sometimes when you are out of the "Match Day 22" you can feel a bit sorry for yourself but it's important to realize that being a member of the Munster Squad puts us in a very privileged position. At the end of the day we are the lucky ones!
'Til next time...