Munster continued their push for Pro 12 glory this season with a hard fought 25-23 victory over the streaking Ospreys on Saturday in Swansea in a win that showed all the hallmarks of a vintage Munster display.
Returning to the top of the table again, the Limerick based side leapfrogged Leinster, who secured an emphatic bonus point win on Friday over Edinburgh in Dublin.
In a side that was denuded of Ireland stars, Munster travelled to Swansea to take on a side that had not lost since November, a full 13 games ago. In a close fought game, a 78th minute try from returning international Dave Kilcoyne, followed by a conversion from captain Tyler Bleyendaal, secured all four points for the visitors.
The win for Munster was their 19th in 22 games this season. Since September the red province has lost just three time this term. This includes their domestic Pro 12 campaign, the European Champions Cup and a friendly against the New Zealand Maori.
For a team that tasted tragedy in October when head coach and former Munster player Anthony Foley passed away suddenly in Paris, the squad has come together in a way that shows more than a little character and whole pile of passion and heart, the absolute epitomy of Munster.
The record the Irish province has built this season, under the most difficult of circumstances, now sees them site on top of the European rugby landscape. No other side in the Pro 12, the English Premiership or France’s Top 14, can match the success of Munster this term.
Fellow Irish province Leinster, along with English side Wasps, can boast a record which approaches that of Munster but ultimately falls short. With the lowest losing record (3 games) and the highest winning record (19), Munster are in the kind of form that saw them secure two Heineken Cups between 2006 and 2008.
What is even more impressive for the Munster of today, names like O’Connell, O’Gara, Stringer, O’Callaghan, Foley and Hayes are no longer part of squad. Today, the next generation is once again living up to the ‘never say die’ Munster mentality.
Saturday’s last gasp victory in Wales is just one of a number of withering, late victories that Rassie Erasmus’ side has ground out this term. Theirs is the form of a championship side.
Munster are an outfit that boasts a number of potential British and Irish Lions in their midst. CJ Stander, Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony, Donnacha Ryan, Simon Zebo and Keith Earls are all putting their hands up for Lions selection. Munster is once again a hot spot for talent coming up through the academy.
In the absence of their international talent, Munster continue to grind out the wins. When the Champions Cup quarter finals return in April, a full compliment of payers will be available to Erasmus.
The province has been away from the top table of European rugby for over half a decade. now, with Thomond Park once again swollen with the adoring masses, their 86% winning record this term confirms that they are once again back and ready to add to their already incredible legacy.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
This week’s edition of The Oval Office, we speak with Niall Ronan, David Arnott and talk all things Six Nations.