Munster take on Edinburgh on Saturday afternoon in what is a season-defining clash for the southern province.
With the exit from the Champions Cup still fresh in their minds, the Guinness PRO14 remains their last chance of securing silverware for the 2017/18 season.
With Edinburgh having an excellent season under Richard Cockerill, we look at five talking points for Munster in what will be an extremely difficult clash at Thomond Park.
Munster’s back-row problems have been evident since Chris Cloete and Tommy O’Donnell both suffered season-ending injuries. The lack of an out and out openside has been an issue for Johann van Graan’s side and this was apparent in the loss to Racing 92 as Munster failed to slow or turnover opposition ball.
Jack O’Donoghue is an excellent player but he is more naturally suited to playing at eight or six. He will have a huge task alongside CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony to disrupt as much Edinburgh ball as possible.
Simon Zebo will start at full-back for Munster and this will come as a relief to Munster supporters who in hindsight, would have desperately wanted the experienced 28-year-old to start against Racing 92 in Bordeaux.
Zebo’s appearance in the second half of that game added a much needed threat to Munster’s backline and many supporters are wondering if the outcome would have been different if the Racing bound star started that game.
There is also a question about the player’s fitness. The Corkman limped off early on against Toulon in the quarter-final and has not completed 80 minutes since. His form will be crucial to Munster securing a victory to face Leinster in the semi-final.
Munster’s defence has been good for most of the season but they were exposed horribly against Racing 92 as they were caught too narrow on more than one occasion. The southern province also missed many basic one-on-one tackles which led to game-changing linebreaks for the Parisian outfit.
JP Ferreira, who is only in the job a couple of months, will know that Munster need to improve in this regard if they are to have any chance in Thomond Park.
Johann van Graan has long stated the need for Munster’s attack to evolve and of course, this takes time and the benefit of the doubt must be given that this is likely to pay dividends next season.
Munster have shown glimpses of expanded attacking play throughout the season but they often rely on one-out runners when the pressure is truly on and when they are faced with a defence which likes to rush up.
Zebo’s inclusion will be key to this on Saturday as he can produce incredible passes and also offers a kicking option when he joins in the attacking line.
Ian Keatley, who has long been Munster’s first-choice 10 this season due to the absence of Tyler Bleyendaal, finds himself on the bench as JJ Hanrahan is tasked with guiding the southern province to victory. Hanrahan’s return from the Northampton Saints was a boost to the club but he has struggled for form and consistency.
Out of all the players in the squad, perhaps Hanrahan possesses the rawest talent but he can be infuriating at times with some bizarre decision making and poor kicking from the tee often hampering his game.
He has a massive opportunity in what is now Munster’s biggest game of the season to stake a claim for the starting 10 jersey. For Munster’s and Hanrahan’s sake, he will need to do so on Saturday.
📣 TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT 📣
Here is your Munster team for tomorrow's Guinness PRO14 knockout clash against Edinburgh at Thomond Park (3.15pm).
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) May 4, 2018