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So Far So Good for Munster
12 December 2003, 1:49 am
Nine points from a possible ten, an away win under their belts and a clinical demolition in the last Heineken Cup outing leaves Munster in good sorts going into the Christmas break.
Nine points from a possible ten, an away win under their belts and a clinical demolition in the last Heineken Cup outing leaves Munster in good sorts going into the Christmas break.

They are in second place in the group, one point behind Gloucester and it's the matches at the start of January that will ultimately decide their fate but as far as coach Alan Gaffney is concerned it's a question of 'so far, so good'. "Yes I'd be pretty happy with the way things have gone for us." He said. " Realistically we've gotten all we could have from the two games.

The objective was to win in France, and we did. I don't think too many sides will get a bonus point from a trip to Bourgoin and then we collected a full quota from the home game. So I couldn't have asked for anything else from the boys." But perhaps what is most pleasing for Gaffney is the way Munster have gone about their business. The game in Bourgoin saw them in the very best light from a discipline and commitment point of view particularly in those closing tense moments when the home side tried to work their way into drop-goal range.

The defence from the men in red was awesome, whether around the fringe of the ruck or out wide. Munster players flung themselves courageously into gaps fighting not for metre gain but for inches. Then against Treviso they played a patient game early on, soaked up the Italian offence and then cut them to ribbons for an opening try which was as good as will be seen in the competition. After that they did as Gaffney has preached, " be patient, build the phases", and the tries followed, eight in all, to secure a bonus point.

But Gaffney is aware that the big battles are yet to come and the most immediate will be in Kingsholm on January 10th. Nigel Melville's side will need little motivation. Not only will the sacrosanct rule of winning your home pool games be plastered on the home dressing room wall but there is the little matter of the last time the sides met.

That day in Thomond Park, Munster shattered more than a Heineken Cup dream. If ever a team was ideally positioned to create history, Gloucester was that team. They'd already flayed Munster and found no-one complaining about the merit of their superiority. And the Munster side that trotted out onto the sacred Thomond turf that January afternoon had people already writing their epitaph a week after they'd been eclipsed by Perpignan at Stade Aime Giral.

However what subsequently transpired has been consigned to the even lengthening tale of Munster derring-do. But while Munster will take pride, Gloucester will take heart. January 10th will be pay-back time as far as the west country club and their supporters are concerned and their aspirations to redress the balance are founded on legitimate claim.

Gloucester are not a good side. They are a helluva good side.

And Kingholm is an absolute nightmare ground for visiting teams. Gloucester have played 8 Heineken Cup games there and have never lost in front of their faithful Shed. They shared the spoils with Colomiers in the pool stage in 2000 on their way to the semi-final when eventual winners Leicester beat them 19-15. So all bets will be off when the sides face each other next January.

Munster will gain their inspiration from where ? God knows. Maybe from their devotion to the cause (winning the Heineken Cup).

Maybe from the memory of how they felt as a squad after the defeat at Kingsholm last year?

Maybe from their supporters who they freely acknowledge as an integral part of their achievement so far.

Maybe just from sheer habit?

In terms of preparedness, Gaffney must also be feeling good. His squad gets stronger by the day. Rob Henderson has now two (one and a quarter ?) games under his belt and looks the business with every minute he plays. Jason Holland, the man Henderson replaced against Treviso, came on as a sub and scored two tries. David Wallace is starting to show the sort of form that made him the stand-out flanker he was prior to suffering that shoulder injury.

Anthony Horgan should arrive back from Lanzarote fit and raring to go but facing a fight to reclaim his place now that Shaun Payne is playing the best rugby of his life. The tried and trusted are just that, Jim Williams like good wine, seems to get better with age, playing just in front of a re-juvenated Axel Foley with Frank Sheehan and Marcus Horan also delivering superb performances since their return from down under. The young bucks are delivering on the early promise so all in all the mix looks fairly potent.

Kingsholm looms large but Munster will arrive with a spring in their step.

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