FORMER England international and current Sky Sports TV pundit, Stuart Barnes believes Munster are in a ‘strong position’ to make the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup as one of the two best-placed pool runners-up.
Barnes believes the bonus point Munster picked up in Sunday’s disappointing 19-13 defeat to Saracens at Vicarage will prove ‘massive’ but feels the away defeat to Racing looks set to cost them a home quarter-final.
Munster slipped down to third place, three points behind Sarries and one adrift of second-placed Racing Metro ahead of the Round 5 and Round 6 pool games in January.
Munster face a trip to Murrayfield to take on Edinburgh in their next Heineken Cup outing on the weekend of January 11-13.
Rob Penney’s side host second-placed Racing Metro at Thomond Park in their final pool fixture on the following weekend.
The date and kick-off times for the final two series of games will be confirmed on this Wednesday, December 19 at 12 noon.
Stuart Barnes said: “If the bonus point was important for Saracens in Ireland this one (on Sunday at Vicarage Road) was massive for Munster because they have ceded the pool advantage to Saracens but retained a strong position as one of the likeliest two best-placed qualifiers.
“In the process they could deprive their great rivals, the current champions, Leinster; there are a few bars in Limerick and Cork that would take the greatest pleasure from this Irish irony.
“There is nothing between these teams except the unexpected defeat inflicted by Racing Metro upon Munster in Paris in round one.
“It was a game Munster really should have won but an unusual tactical meltdown cost them dear.
“To see the imperious tactical appreciation of Ronan O’ Gara in the second half and to remember his premature departure in Paris is to comprehend why Saracens are in pole position for the pool and Munster for the privilege of an away quarter final, possibly at Harlequins, Toulon or Clermont.
“If the men in red make it through they would probably choose Harlequins as a preferred destination. Toulon battered them in the south of France a few years ago and the romp against Sale was another reminder they are deadly serious about their European extravaganza this time around.”
While Munster head coach, Rob Penney is preparing his charges for the resumption of the RaboDirect PRO12 and Saturday’s crucial clash with Connacht at the Sportsground (5.15pm, TG4), the New Zealander remains upbeat about Munster’s chances of making it through to the last eight of the Heineken Cup.
Penney said: “We still have 10 points to play for and who knows what will happen. I am very optimistic that this group of players can turn this around as they are hugely talented.”
Munster are likely to rest several first time regulars for the trip to Galway this weekend.
Prop Dave Kilcoyne, who missed Sunday’s defeat to Sarries due to a sick stomach, may well be involved.
Following Saturday’s clash, Munster will host PRO12 leaders Ulster at Thomond Park in another inter-provincial fixture on Saturday, December 29 (5.30pm).
Fourth-placed Munster currently occupy the final play-off spot in the PRO12 table, two points behind third-placed Leinster and five adrift of the Scarlets. Connacht occupy ninth place in the League.