FOLLOWING Friday night’s 6-20 loss at the hands of the Newport-Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade Tony McGahan’s Munster will be comforted with the thought of a return to Thomond Park for the visit of the Cardiff Blues (Saturday, 7.30pm).
The defeat to the Dragons may prove a blessing in disguise for Munster. Matters had been progressing nicely of late and although the province were without several of their leading lights Munster maintained their place at the summit of the Magners League table.
The victory over the Australian touring side capped a very successful November for McGahan, but, ironically, the defeat suffered at the hands of the Dragons could prove priceless should it concentrate the minds of the players ahead of vital few weeks.
Munster, once they get the Blues out of the way this weekend, return to Heineken Cup action on Sunday, December 12 when they host the Ospreys at Thomond Park.
Munster lead the pool by a single point from the Ospreys as things stand, but this clash with the Welsh side and the return fixture at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday, December 18 could determine whether McGahan’s men will maintain their interest in the competition come January.
The Blues’ Magners League form has been patchy this season. Cardiff have won four of their six home games and only managed wins away to Treviso and Aironi.
Cardiff inflicted a 38-6 defeat on the Glasgow Warriors last Saturday and appear to have found some form.
The Welsh side will also have the Heineken Cup on their minds - Cardiff have already beaten Edinburgh in the European Cup this season and although they then lost away to Castres Olympique their consecutive clashes with the Northamption Saints will ultimately decide their fate in pool one of the prestigious competition.
Last season Munster shared the spoils with the Blues. In September 2009 at Thomond Park Munster saw off Cardiff on a 24-13 scoreline when tries from Marcus Horan and Denis Leamy helped the home side toward an 11-point win. The sides subsequently encountered one another on May 9 last when Cardiff won 13-12. The losing bonus point for Munster secured fourth spot and a place in last season’s Magners League semi-final against Leinster. No one in Munster needs reminding of how that turned out.
Munster will be expected to win this encounter and clear their throats nicely in time for the visit of the Ospreys on Sunday week.
Meanwhile it is not known at his point whether the next step in Paul O’Connell’s comeback from long-term injury is with his club side Young Munster or with Munster.
O’Connell played in his first competitive fixture for 250 days when featuring as a half-time replacement in Young Munster’s 17-18 All-Ireland League Division 1A defeat to Shannon before an estimated 3,000 supporters at Thomond Park on Friday night.
While the Munster skipper reported no ill effects after his 40-minute comeback, O’Connell, who had not played competitively since Ireland’s Six Nations defeat to Scotland last March, admitted his fitness levels needed to improve significantly.
Finally, John Hayes, who had been invited to play for the Barbarians against South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday, has not been named in the match day squad. That news suggests that John Hayes will turn out for Munster this weekend.