MUNSTER coach Tony McGahan is expecting Harlequins to arrive in Limerick for Saturday’s glamour Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final displaying a ‘steely focus to play’ despite bookmakers and pundits dismissing the Premiership club’s prospects of emerging victorious at Thomond Park (1pm).
Layers have priced up Munster as long odds-on favourites at 1/6 to win the Thomond Park showdown and punters can also back ‘Quins with a 10-point start in the handicap lists. However, Munster coach McGahan is adamant that ‘Quins pose a real threat to Munster’s eight-game winning run in all competitions. The winners of Saturday’s tie- expected to be a 26,000 sell-out- will face French opposition, either Stade Francais or ASM Clermont Auvergne in next month’s final in Cardiff. Despite Munster being burdened with the favourites’ tag ahead of Saturday’s tie and ‘Quins appearing to play down their own prospects of winning, Tony McGahan is adamant both sides will feel pressure.
“I think when you are playing in the semi-final of any competition there is pressure on everyone,” Tony McGahan said.
“I don’t think it absolves you. I don’t think that will be the message inside their dressingroom or their training quarters for the week. They’ll be coming here with a steely focus to play. So, I think there is pressure on everyone coming in. The only ones who make favourites and non-favourites are the outside media pundits and supporters. We are aware that we will have opportunities to win the game and they will be exactly the same. It is usually outside influences who decide if it is favourites or not. We are certainly well aware of their strengths.”
A decision on whether captain Paul O’Connell, who has been sidelined since the start of the month with an ankle injury, will feature in the Munster squad for this weekend’s game was expected to be made this Thursday. O’Connell did train with the Munster squad earlier this week. Scrum-half Tomas O’Leary may also have some involvement this weekend, although neither the Corkman or O’Connell were included in a 27-strong squad of fit players for the game released by Munster this Wednesday. Munster received a timely boost ahead of their date with ‘Quins when beating the Ospreys in dramatic fashion in the Magners League last weekend. While Munster prevailed, thanks to Ronan O’Gara’s late penalty, Munster’s under-performing scrum was a cause for some concern.
“The Ospreys are well noted as a strong scrummaging side,” Tony McGahan said.
“They gave us a lot of trouble over there last time in the Heineken Cup and especially on their ball. On our ball we were fine. ‘Quins have a very strong scrum. They haven’t been beaten by a big score in any of their losses this year, so their set-piece serves them well.”
Munster Squad (27): Johne Murphy, Felix Jones, Denis Hurley, Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Sam Tuitupou, Lifeimi Mafi, Paul Warwick, Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer, Conor Murray, Marcus Horan, Wian du Preez, John Hayes, Tony Buckley, Stephen Archer, Damien Varley, Mike Sherry, Donnncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll, Donnacha Ryan, Ian Nagle, Tommy O’Donnell, David Wallace, Niall Ronan, James Coughlan, Denis Leamy.