Munster returned to the magnificently redeveloped Thomond Park on a sodden Saturday night and maintained their best ever start to a Magners Celtic League season following victory over Glasgow.
Just five matches into the season, Tony McGahan’s men top the table and are 10 points clear of defending champions Leinster, who were shocked by a resolute Connacht in Galway on Sunday night.
The European Cup holders are arguably in their best-ever early season form ahead of the new ERC campaign, which gets underway this Friday in Limerick when they host tournament newcomers Montauban.
With Clermont Auvergne and Sale Sharks also in the mix, this looks like another pool which will be decided come the last weekend of fixtures in mid-January.
And if Sale are in with a shot by the spring, headline writers will be thrilled given the all too obvious shark/pool connotations – remember where you read it first!
Saturday’s victory against traditionally sticky opposition was the province’s least impressive display of the season – but given the highs that have been achieved to date, especially at the RDS, one can’t be too hard on Munster.
With Barry Murphy coming into midfield to partner Rua Tipoki, and veteran wing Anthony Horgan also moving into the starting XV, McGahan’s pledge to rotate the squad has been honoured. And it’s working very well.
And when one considers that the outstanding player over the first five games is a young Limerick lad already played out of position – and in two different positions at that, it’s difficult not to get excited about what lies ahead.
It’s early days in the senior career of Keith Earls, and it’s important to remember that, but it says much for his talent that it would already be something of a surprise if he doesn’t feature in Declan Kidney’s first Irish squad.
He appears to have it all: great vision, an excellent boot and a fantastic flair for finishing. He’s surrounded by experience and guile, particularly Doug Howlett, who continues to play like he’s been here all his life.
Said Glasgow coach Sean Lineen of the Munster rookie: “That Keith Earls is some player. Are you sure there’s no Scottish blood in him?”
While the damp conditions were hardly conducive to expansive rugby, there were still some wonderful offloading demonstrated through both divisions.
Some of it was a far cry from the shambolic handling many playing last Saturday produced this time last year in national colours.
But McGahan knows there’s a lot that has to be worked upon ahead of Montauban’s visit on Friday. At the breakdown and setpiece ball in particular, Munster know they must be tighter and more clinical when it matters against the French.
Yet when it comes to the European stage, one can safely state that the holders can produce their A-game when it matters more than most.
Montauban, who feature few household names from this juncture, are already talking down their chances – as they would ahead of their first foray into one of the great cauldrons of club rugby.
Surely Munster won’t leave anything behind this Friday – but a little like the Dragons match in Thomond a couple of seasons ago, perceived soft touches can turn out to be anything but.
So expect a totally professional performance from the holders at the end of the week in a heaving new stadium at the onset of what could be a very special season indeed down Munster way.
Munster v Montauban, Friday, Sky Sports 2, 8pm; Highlights on RTE Two at 11.20pm