Heineken Champions Cup – Alan Quinlan Previews Edinburgh v Munster
A week is a long time in sports – and for Irish rugby fans, it’s probably a good thing, too! That’s why it’s so long Six Nations and hello again Heineken Champions Cup, and there’s an absolute belter to kick off the knockout stages.
Live from noon on Virgin Media One (Virgin TV 103), Edinburgh will host Munster in the first of the tournament’s quarter-final ties. The Irish side are hoping to reach a third consecutive semi-final, but a stern test – and a partisan crowd – awaits them in Murrayfield. So who better to look ahead to the titanic tussle than a veteran of many such games for the men in red? We picked the brain of the one and only Alan Quinlan…
Unfamiliar opponents are the norm in the knockout stage – yet Munster and Edinburgh meet regularly. Will that make a difference on Saturday?
It’s a factor, there’s no doubt about that. Players will know each other inside-out, and the coaches too. Thing is, in a lot of their meetings the sides aren’t at full strength; in that sense, this will a different type of game. They met late last season and Edinburgh certainly caused problems; I chatted with [Edinburgh coach] Richard Cockerill afterwards and there was real frustration there. They have ambitions to be a team that can win massive games, and they’ll definitely reckon they can knock off a side with the European pedigree of Munster.
That pedigree has to count in Munster’s favour though, right?
Look, having been winners of the tournament, going to the knockouts so many times, knowing what to expect and having a bit of a knack of winning big matches – it all helps a little bit. They have to go out and perform, though; you can’t rely on those things to make it happen. It’s a while since Munster won an away knockout game, so there’s still a fair bit of pressure there. The win in Gloucester back in January – always a hostile environment to play in – will be a good experience to draw on.
What is it about playing on the road that’s such a challenge?
It’s the little things, really. Familiar surroundings, the home crowd; those small margins make a difference. Munster have proven over the years how tough they are to beat in Thomond Park, and now they have to go to Murrayfield to take on a confident side who’ve produced some big performances this season. But Munster supporters always travel well, and there’s enough experience in the side to cope – or at least, if home advantage is a factor in the game, they can prevent it from being a major one.
There’s one thing everyone agrees will be a major factor; the fitness of Joey Carbery. Could it go so far as deciding the game?
You obviously want your big players available, and he’s been massive for Munster this year. It’s a pivotal position, and one where there’s been instability in the past few years; his quality has shown in his performances, and he’s given the team real guidance. It hasn’t always been perfect – Castres away wasn’t great, by his own admission – but for him to be available is huge for the team. Players, coaches, fans, they all know it.
It’s also a week for some of the Irish internationals to put the disappointment of the Six Nations behind them…
For sure – and since they can’t do it with Ireland for a bit, there’s no better time to get back on track. Sometimes it’s not the critics who’ll motivate you, but your own selfish reasons – and they’ll definitely want big performances for themselves, to get that confidence and belief back. It’s not just an individual thing, though; the team needs something to play for in the coming weeks.
OK, let’s have your prediction…
It’s a tough one to call. Edinburgh are very capable of putting in a performance and beating Munster. But if Munster have a full squad to choose from, I think they have enough to get a result. (After a very long pause)… I’d say Munster – but I’m wary of the quality that the Edinburgh side has…
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