Five tries, five points and a five star performance and all of a sudden there is a spring in the step of the Munster bandwagon. In Thomond Park on Saturday Anthony Foley led a brave and committed Munster to victory over a Castres side who even afterwards still seemed stunned by the intensity of the challenge that had been visited on them.
The crowd played their part too and the atmosphere in Thomond was perhaps a timely and fitting reminder of what rugby is in danger of losing if the vexed question of the redevelopment of Thomond Park is not resolved.
The ground work for this victory was done up front where the Munster pack were awesome against an eight considered amongst the very best in France. Jerry Flannery was deservedly awarded the Heineken Man of the Match and afterward he was lavish in his praise of his colleagues. In turn Mick O Driscoll who dominated the air space all day heaped praise on his hooker and again after another superb performance, one has to wonder what it will take for O Driscoll to get a call up to the national squad.
Ronan O Gara ensured that hard won possession was put to good use and his top drawer display included a delightfully weighted cross-field kick for John Kelly to score the bonus point try. Kelly deserves huge credit for the manner in which he took his score because after he gathered the ball he had a lot of work to do to avoid the covering Laurent Marticorena, the touchline and the corner flag. Anthony Horgan s sharper than a Stanley blade performance earned him a try and probably a place against The All Blacks while on current form, Shaun Payne would probably get his place on most international sides.
Perhaps one of the singularly most impressive aspects of the performance was the manner in which Munster defended their line in the closing stages. It was at the end of a hugely physical match, minds and bodies tired and with the result beyond any doubt. They would have been forgiven if Castres had crossed the line. But they refused to yield and defended 27 phases before turnover ball lifted the siege and Jeremy Manning booted a massive penalty to bring an end to proceedings.
As Declan Kidney quite rightly observed, Munster s win over Castres simply means that they are back on track with a view to reaching the knock-out and no more than that. From here on in there is no margin for error.
The performance will of course have provided a very important confidence boost but the fact remains that Sale Sharks are in pole position in Pool One and the manner of their bonus point victory in Rodney Parade on Friday night suggests that we could be looking at a winner take all contest when they visit Thomond Park next January.
For that to happen Munster must replicate everything the Sharks do. For example, a win in Rodney Parade on January 10th might not be enough without the bonus unless the English tie-up in France the night before. Those December clashes are going to be crucial. On the evidence of what we have seen so far you would not back against the Sharks winning in Castres and then doing to the French in Edgeley Park what Munster did in Thomond Park.
If that were to happen it would leave Sale with 18 points going into the January games and Munster in second place on 14, if of course they take nine points no mean feat - from their back-to back games against the Dragons.
Then in the penultimate Pool games, Munster travel to France and Sale host the Dragons. At the end of the Edgeley Park encounter Sharks could have taken their points tally to 23 so the very least Munster need from the trip to France, to keep their hopes of qualification alive, is a win. That would leave the gap at five with Sale to arrive in Limerick and Munster needing to win, to win by 8+ points and score at least four tries. Sound familiar ?