Our undefeated home record this season was ended last Saturday by a determined Glasgow team. They came to win, cementing their bye into the semi-final round.
They wanted it more. It might be as simple as that. But now our likely opponents in the Pro 14 final (should we make it) will be Glasgow, playing in their home town.
Had they lost, it would have given Munster a chance to top the group. Now, we don’t owe our southern neighbours any favours, but playing them in the final would be a more level game than a team comfortable in their own city.
Munster will now have to play a knock out round (home) before the semi-final (away) so have a much more difficult path than either Glasgow or Leinster.
I recall a few years ago losing to the Ospreys in a similar fashion, a point between the teams at the final whistle. It was similar circumstance: Leinster already qualified for the latter stages and their opponents scrambling.
We left the RDS thinking, at least we are through anyway, only for the Ospreys to come back in the final and steal the result in a similar fashion. Will the same thing happen this year? Can we overturn a result that we don’t care that much about?
Plenty of rugby to play before that point. We have two semi-finals to look forward to, and there is still the final game in the Pro 14, away to Ulster. If ever there was a dead-rubber game this is going to be it.
Both Leinster and Ulster are through. Ulster cannot catch Leinster in top spot and are clear of Benetton Treviso and Edinburgh. Expect an experimental Leinster side anyway.
This weekend’s problem is slightly more difficulty. Toulouse on Easter Sunday.
We lost by 1 point to them last October in the south of France (my reflections). We beat them well at home in the RDS. I mentioned at the time that these two teams would have unfinished business with each other this year.
That game in October had many parallels with last Saturday’s match. We were up against a team with ambition, who defended with fierceness, forcing mistakes, who attacked with both pace and patience. They also scored an intercept try to snatch the game.
Next Sunday should be a different story altogether. On paper, the returning first team stars give a lot of confidence. It is hard to gauge Leinster’s form, given two weak outings with a much reduced starting line-up, but some key figures did appear in both squads.
It was worrying to see Tadhg Furlong depart after only a few minutes on the pitch having come on as a substitute. He was probably withdrawn as a precaution and is in training this week. We saw Devin Toner and Robbie Henshaw return to the field, which gives more options to Leo Cullen.
There were positives from last weekend. Sean O’Brien played well and was taken off early – had this been a tight game for position in the table it would have been a different story. He will start on Sunday for sure.
Both Kearney brothers looked impressive, each picking up a brace, and Jack Dunne made a promising first start, having come off the bench last week. With Mick Kearney out for the rest of the season, he could feature in some of the knock-out stages. Caelan Doris impressed at number eight. We may have to wait until next year to see him play in Europe, but it is something I am looking forward to.
At last we are back in the final series of games. It has been a long season, with plenty of ups and downs. Horrible injuries and more losses than we would like, but the squad seems to have grown with plenty of the younger lads stepping forward.
However at this stage of the year I feel it is the experience of the senior players that is needed to keep is on track for what could be a remarkable two seasons. Retaining Europe is going to be the primary goal, but should we do that, there is the bonus of playing to retain the domestic title also.
One game at a time. The big one, against the other giant of European rugby, Toulouse, is upon us. That dodgy pass from Luke McGrath may be behind us, but it doesn’t rest easy on my mind. We got the home quarter final, but only have home country advantage because Toulouse won away to Racing Metro, one of this year‘s favourites.
They are coming to town and will be looking for revenge. We beat them at the RDS and eight years ago in Aviva at the Quarter final stage. With home advantage and returning players, we should have them matched.
I think we need to play like we want this one more than they do. Like we didn’t win it last year. Show up like this is life or death to us and we will not be beaten.