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South Africa Tour Will Prime Us For Semi-Final – O’Mahony

South Africa Tour Will Prime Us For Semi-Final – O’Mahony

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony reckons their two-match tour of South Africa will give them the ideal lead-in to the Champions Cup semi-final against Racing 92 in three weeks’ time. It was a very happy Easter weekend for the province after their dramatic late victory over Toulon.

Munster’s 23-man squad from the European quarter-final leaves for South Africa today, along with five other players – Brian Scott, Dave O’Callaghan, Conor Oliver, Dan Goggin and Academy player Calvin Nash. They will be based in Cape Town and travel to George and Bloemfontein for their respective GUINNESS PRO14 matches against the Southern Kings (this Saturday) and the Toyota Cheetahs (on Friday week).

Tommy O’Donnell has unfortunately been added to the province’s already considerable rehabilitation list, with Keith Earls, Tyler Bleyendaal, Duncan Williams, Chris Cloete, Jaco Taute and Chris Farrell already sidelined. Flanker O’Donnell will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery for the shoulder injury he sustained against the Scarlets recently.

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In the absence of some of those key players, others stepped up to deliver the goods in Munster’s edge-of-the-seat 20-19 defeat of French powerhouses Toulon. While Andrew Conway’s try heroics grabbed the headlines, man-of-the-match Peter O’Mahony highlighted the collective display of the back-line, particularly in stopping the ball-carrying threats of the vastly-experienced Ma’a Nonu and Mathieu Bastareaud.

“It was always going to be tough. Going behind late on is not where we wanted to be. I thought the backs were superb, one of the best performances ever from a Munster back-line against world-class players. The two lads in midfield (Sam Arnold and Rory Scannell), the back three, last-ditch tackles against world-class players,” said the Munster captain.

“Toulon put a lot of pressure on us early on, we could have done some things better but we were prepared to be under the pump. It was incredibly gutsy, up there with one of the best I’ve captained. Andrew could have let the ball go out of play and let the forwards deal with it, but it was individual brilliance from him (to score that try).

“You’re trying to line yourself to get back into position. But the potential of our back-three, all of them, they have incredible pace in those positions. Conor Murray scores a different try, he was very diligent. We were slagging him for it being such an easy one!

Jack O’Donoghue was outstanding, his carrying and decision-making. Stephen Archer was great in the tackle area. But our backs were outstanding. (Mathieu) Bastareaud and (Ma’a) Nonu didn’t get any go-forward ball all day.”

It will be a record 13th European semi-final appearance for Munster in 19 years, and they will have plenty of preparatory notes and footage on their last-four opponents Racing, given the sides faced each other in Pool 4 this season – with a home win apiece – and Munster did the double on the Parisians during their 2016/17 pool campaign.

Looking forward to the coming weeks with the province also nicely positioned in second place in the PRO14’s Conference A, O’Mahony acknowledged: “The next two weeks will be very important. We will have to do a lot of work doing our video on the opposition, alongside playing the two games (in South Africa).

“And obviously the week of the semi-final will be hugely important. You can’t just skip past all the processes that we need to get ourselves right. They’re very important as well. (Losing the quarter-final) would have been a difficult one to take even though Toulon played well, very well at times. But it would have been difficult to take, the nature of being knocked out in Europe.

“It will certainly make the next two weeks more enjoyable (on the South African tour) and we will try to enjoy ourselves and prepare accordingly for the two games and the semi-final as well. That was probably our best performance of the year, certainly defensively. And if we want to win the semi-final, it’s going to have to be a step up again.

“Guys have to understand that and it is not always easy to do. These performances take a lot of guys, a huge amount, not just physically, but emotionally, the whole lot. So guys have to have the ability to recover and play once, if not twice over the next couple of weeks and then get themselves mentally, physically and emotionally ready for the next biggest game of their career.”

It was certainly a bruising encounter with Toulon, as Munster had to cope with the injury-enforced departure of full-back Simon Zebo after just 25 minutes, while head coach Johann van Graan said try-scoring scrum half Murray was also in the wars.

“Zeebs was upset (coming off) because he really wanted to play 80 minutes and put in a great performance. To be honest, it’s like a war zone in the changing room. That was intensity, physicality from both sides. We’ve got a lot of bumps and bruises,” admitted the South Africa after Saturday’s hard-fought triumph.

“We’ll reassess. Luckily we’ve only got to fly to South Africa on Monday, do a two-week tour then fly back for a European Cup semi-final, so we’ll reassess in terms of all the knocks and needs. Conor’s bruised up like a lot of other guys in the changing room. We wanted fresh legs on. He took a blow to the knee, one to the ribs, one to the shoulder. That’s just Conor Murray. Every single game he plays he takes a few knocks. We’ll reassess but at this stage, nothing seems too serious.”

Meanwhile, following the Munster ‘A’ team’s 17-6 British & Irish Cup quarter-final loss to their Leinster counterparts on Friday, hooker Kevin O’Byrne will require further medical review for a hip injury he suffered during the first half.

MUNSTER Squad (South Africa Tour) – Forwards (16): Dave Kilcoyne, James Cronin, Stephen Archer, John Ryan, Brian Scott, Rhys Marshall, Niall Scannell, Billy Holland, Jean Kleyn, Gerbrandt Grobler, Peter O’Mahony (capt), Jack O’Donoghue, Dave O’Callaghan, Conor Oliver, Robin Copeland, CJ Stander.

Backs (12): Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway, Alex Wootton, Darren Sweetnam, Calvin Nash, Sam Arnold, Rory Scannell, Dan Goggin, Ian Keatley, JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray, James Hart.