Tough Three Weeks Ahead for Munster
30th December 2002 By Munster Rugby
The Munster squad gathered in Limerick on Monday (30/12) to continue their preparations for three matches in three weeks that will determine the rest of their season.
The Munster squad gathered in Limerick on Moday (30/12) to continue their preparations for three matches in three weeks that will determine the rest of their season.
On Friday night they take on Ulster in the semi-final of the Celtic League, the following week they travel to France for the vital clash with Perpignan and then they face Gloucester in Thomond Park on January 18th. A win against Ulster will see them head once again to Wales and the Millennium Stadium for the final meeting with either Cardiff or Neath on February 1st and success on Friday in turn will provide them with a timely morale boost ahead of the formidable task that awaits them in Perpignan.
The challenge they’ll face against Ulster cannot be underestimated. It’s going to be a huge game for Alan Gaffney’s side against an Ulster team who probably feel that this competition is their only chance of silverware this season. According to a Leinster player who was in Lanzarote with the national squad just before Christmas, “the Ulster boys could talk of nothing else other than the game with Munster” They’ll not be the slightest bit intimidated by the prospect of facing Munster in front of the Thomond Park faithful and likely see it as the ideal opportunity of relieving Munster of their proud unbeaten home record.
On top of that they come into the game having had a useful work-out last weekend against a Celtic Warrior XV and their form against Biarritz has shown them to be a side in the very best of form. Munster coach Gaffney stressed the importance of the game when he said, “ It could decide our entire season. Our season could be over in mid January if things don’t go our way. We have three huge games, this one and two in the Heineken. Now I think how we come out of the Ulster match could well decide the other two.” The other two Gaffney refers to are the away game against Perpignan and the home match against Gloucester. However, it’s the Perpignan game that holds the key to Munster’s immediate Heineken Cup future.
As things stand Munster have six points – the same as Gloucester – with Perpignan on four, with two rounds of games to play. Gloucester are guaranteed 8 points and enough tries to ensure progress to the knock-outs after the visit of Viadana on January 11th. Now, if Munster were to lose in Perpignan, it would leave the three principals on 8 points going into the last series on weekend of January 17th. Perpignan, away to Viadana would give the French enough tries to haul themselves ahead of Munster on tries scored. Assuming that Gloucester will have enjoyed a try-feat against the Italians the previous week, then a Munster win over Gloucester would not be enough to see them through to their fifth successive quarter-final. The game in Perpignan is one Munster just cannot afford to lose.