Munster host the Ospreys in the Heineken Cup quarter-final this Easter Sunday (Sky Sports 1, 12.45pm) in rude health following their 22-5 Magners League win over Leinster at Thomond Park last Saturday.
The holders go into next Sunday’s meeting as firm favourites and, irrespective of the Ospreys’ many qualities; anything other than a Munster win would constitute a shock.
“We have reached the stage of the Heineken Cup where it is all or nothing – if you don’t perform in the 80 minutes of a knock-out game you are out of the competition,” said Munster coach Tony McGahan.
“It was always our intention to be competitive in both the Heineken Cup and the domestic league and to have both dreams still alive at this stage of the season is excellent.
“It was a fantastic result against Leinster in a very attritional match and to win an important game like that going into this huge weekend was just what we needed.”
Ronan O’Gara was equally upbeat after Saturday’s impressive win, which puts them within touching distance of the Magners League title.
“I think the will to win is great [with this team] and that’s what you get,” said the fly-half, who delivered another man of the match performance.
“The competition for places is incredible and the impact that the subs made when they came on gave a huge lift to the fellas on the pitch.”
Talk is rife and unavoidable among Munster fans about a Magners/Heineken double. Playing at this level and playing so well, such inevitable talk goes with the territory.
“Sometimes in Ireland we can bet a bit carried away,” O’Gara added.
“We try to win every game and everyone has bought into that idea. We’ve got competition for places; obviously the European Cup speaks for itself and we’re trying to maintain a double campaign.”
McGahan, a graduate of the Declan Kidney school of pragmatism, fully realises that Sunday’s opponents, many burned by recent events in Cardiff, will provide Munster with a massive test.
“The Ospreys have got a pretty dangerous and confrontational pack of forwards, they run a good line-out and employ an aggressive defensive system,” he said.
“They also have a number of key individuals like Shane Williams, James Hook and Mike Phillips who can make long breaks and really attack and challenge opposing formations from deep.”
With Gavin Henson out for the rest of the season and question marks over the fitness of outstanding full-back Lee Byrne, the Welsh side will not have their strongest team available this weekend.
Frankie Sheahan and Rua Tipoki aside, McGahan has as strong a squad available to him as he has had all season long.
He also has some major calls to make in terms of selection given how well Niall Ronan and Alan Quinlan in particular have played of late. Getting his full squad back together and watching them gel so brilliantly made the Munster coach one happy man.
“Aside of the result on Saturday night the main satisfaction for me was seeing the integration back into the squad of our international players for our first game together for eight to nine weeks,” he added.
“They responded superbly and toughed it out against a very good side.
“However, while every side has some areas in which they would like to improve – and we are no different – we go into the quarter-final conscious that the main thing is to keep our focus on ourselves and what we are trying to do and the rest should follow.
“We do have a few players missing, such as key men like Frankie and Rua, but we are looking forward to what should be a great and magic day.”
Sunday represents Munster’s 100th European Cup appearance, as they join fellow giants Toulouse in the three figure club.
Getting games 101 and 102 registered before the season’s end, winning both and adding the Magners League trophy to the sideboard would be just the ticket for Irish rugby’s immovable object.
It’s clearly going to take a few great performances to stop the mighty men of Munster from achieving that remarkable feat this season. And try as they undoubtedly and ferociously will, the Ospreys won’t be the team to knock the Munster locomotive off the rails.