Belfast Telegraph

Finely tuned Munster aim to save the best for last in final act of tough season

Munster 23-3 Ospreys

By Cian Tracy

Inside the four walls of the dressing room, Donnacha Ryan and Francis Saili led the Munster squad in a rousing rendition of 'Stand Up and Fight' but when they left the sanctum, that was where the back slapping ended.

In keeping with his measured attitude since he arrived last summer, Rassie Erasmus was quick to put his side's semi-final win over Ospreys into context.

There was a lot to admire in Munster's performance, particularly Simon Zebo's wonder-try which suggested that there is a lot more to come from them but a tougher test lies ahead against the Scarlets on Saturday.

That Munster have even given themselves a chance of finishing what was been an utterly testing season is a remarkable achievement for a group of players who have had to cope with the loss of Anthony Foley.

Many other teams would have fallen away by now but Munster's relentless desire to have something to show for everything they have gone through in the last seven months has propelled them into the Guinness PRO12 final.

Munster will return to the scene of their most disappointing defeat of the season and although they have lost in their two previous visits to the Aviva, if they can make it third time lucky, it would be the most fitting end.

This season was supposed to be when Erasmus embedded himself into the Munster way of life. Having Foley alongside him was a key part of that plan. With the legendary No 8's untimely passing, Erasmus was very much thrown into the deep end, but the manner in which he has conducted himself and found a way to guide his team into the decider has been remarkable.

"I didn't even know what teams were in the PRO12 when I arrived," Erasmus admitted.

"I just knew Munster because I followed them when it was still the Heineken Cup. It was on television in South Africa.

"I didn't really have an expectation when I came here. I with an idea to learn about the players, learn about the potential, learn about Axel and lets maximise it and let's see what comes out on the other side.

"Yes I am surprised we are in a final after all the other stuff that we went through. There was a lot of other stuff we went through that wasn't nice and was difficult. I am surprised and I am proud.

"To be honest, the players deserve it. They worked hard, they went through tough times, they went through things before matches and they went through things last year, even to qualify.

"I just looked at a press conference two weeks ago, old clips just before they played Edinburgh and the pressure that must have been on this team last year just to qualify for Europe.

"The team has been through a hell of a lot before I came here in the last 18 months so that's satisfying. They never give up and want to give back to the fans, that's satisfying for them."

Saili signed off from Thomond Park with a first half try and later sparked the break that led to Zebo scoring a stunning team try that will live long in the memory. Andrew Conway rounded off the victory with a third try late on.

Erasmus has been a breath of fresh air but so too has his right hand man Jacques Nienaber and once again the defensive shift that Munster put in, typified their unyielding pursuit of a first trophy since 2011.

"Obviously we have had some of the lowest lows of all time and then we've put in a lot of very good performances," captain Peter O'Mahony maintained.

"Look, it's testament to this group of guys. We were well into our off-season this time last year and we didn't have any rugby to play. Now we're playing up the last week you can play in.

"We've knuckled down, we've stuck to what we have been given and look, we've made a final. We haven't won anything but we've put ourselves in a position to win something.

"With the year that we have had, it would be a nice thing to do but we've an incredibly difficult test coming up next week. We know that if we are going to win this thing, we are going to have to keep our best for the very last weekend of the competition.

"I'm very proud, very proud. It was difficult at times. We've got ourselves out of some tricky situations and yeah, I am 100pc proud of what the lads have achieved so far this season."

One more 'tricky situation' lies ahead before Munster can put this testing season to bed. Whether the home dressing room at the Aviva is filled with one last blast of their famous anthem, lies in their own hands.

Driven by the emotion of the last seven months, you wouldn't back against that being the case.

Belfast Telegraph

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