Munster head into Saturday’s eagerly anticipated clash with Leinster on the back of two defeats and with the knowledge that their last four meetings with Leo Cullen’s side have all ended in disappointment.
With that in mind, there is certainly pressure on this Munster team going into the weekend and the sold-out Thomond Park crowd will be hoping their side can end the drought against their rivals.
To do so, Munster will have to produce their best performance of the season as Leinster are expected to have their side fully loaded with their many Ireland internationals after securing a dramatic win over Connacht with a much-changed side last weekend.
Despite the daunting nature of the task that awaits Munster, head coach Johann van Graan says his side have been looking forward to this fixture for a long time.
“We’ve been looking forward to this game for a long time,” van Graan said at Thursday’s press conference.
“Champions of Europe and champions of the PRO14, quality side. You just have to look at their last few performances and what they’ve done over the past year to recognise their quality.”
A win on Saturday has the potential to provide a much-needed confidence boost as Munster go into their final interpro of the festive season and of course, those crucial European games against English opposition which could define their season.
Of course, confidence would come with a win but there’s also individual markers to be laid down as there will be many Munster players who will want to prove their worth under the watchful eye of Joe Schmidt.
“I think everybody in Europe wants to measure themselves against the best and at this stage, it’s most definitely Leinster. If you just look at the team that beat the All Blacks, [Leinster] had 13 people in that team [Ireland] and Munster had four.
“So, massive challenge for us. A lot of guys want to prove themselves and it’s a pretty important game for ourselves. We’re playing at home in a sellout Thomond Park and what a way to finish the year.”
It’s safe to say van Graan is impressed with what Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have achieved over the last few seasons and that was evident in their incredible comeback against Connacht at the RDS last Saturday.
“You’ve got to give credit where credit is due. To come back, I think it was 29-12, with 10 minutes to go. To come back and actually win that game in the way that they did, I think it was something like 40 phases that they kept the ball for. It’s incredible really, I think a lot of teams aspire to that.
“Like I said, if you want to be the best, you’ve got to measure yourself against the best and they are clearly way above the rest at this stage. Like we said, that’s why we’re looking forward to this one to see where we are at.”
Leinster look well placed to have a serious crack at repeating their double achievement last season and van Graan has been impressed with their mentality surrounding this, in addition to the opportunities they have offered fringe players in their squad.
“I think the hunger for success,” van Graan responded when asked what has impressed him most about Leinster.
“I think it’s easy to become a champion once but it looks like they want to be champions again. Even in situations where they are seemingly out like at the weekend against Connacht, they come back and get a win. The way they do it, I think it’s very impressive. I think how they stay in the big moments, that Bath game away, it was pretty tight, they had one opportunity and they took it and won the game.
“Their squad development, we think we’re doing a lot of things right at Munster at this stage but if you look at Leinster…whenever guys get opportunities, they use it. You’ve got to give credit for that.”
Munster v Leinster kicks off at 17:15 this Saturday.