‘I’m kind of sick of saying ‘yeah, we feel we can do it this year”

MUNSTER’S REMARKABLE CONSISTENCY in Europe has seen the southern province advance through to their 14th Heineken Champions Cup semi-final, but their ascent back to the summit has been laden with pitfalls.

Since last lifting the European Cup in 2008, Munster have lost all six of their semi-final appearances, and their end-of-season misery is not exclusive to that competition, with the province falling short in two finals and a further three semi-finals in the Pro14 since their last trophy, in 2011.

Conor Murray and Johann van Graan celebrate at Murrayfield last weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

While the coaching and playing personnel has changed in the intervening years, the core of the team remains, and the demons and sense of collective suffering from those painful days is shared among the dressing room and supporter base. 

Last weekend’s quarter-final defeat of Edinburgh paved Munster’s latest passage through to the last four, where they will meet Saracens — their conquerors two seasons ago — in a mouth-watering tie in Coventry. 

The English Premiership side were clinically efficient in their defeat of the then Rassie Erasmus coached Munster in Dublin, while 12 months ago the province — with Johann van Graan in charge — completely misfired against Racing 92. Prior to that, Clermont, Toulon, Biarritz and Leinster have all had their number on semi-final day.

Conor Murray sat out the chastening defeat to Saracens back in 2017 due to injury but the Munster number nine has endured his fair share of disappointment, suffering defeat in all four of his European semi-final appearances in red. 

“I don’t think it’s that psychological,” Murray insists. “I think the groups have been different. The players and the personnel have been different over the years. If you look at Saracens, we did well for so long but Saracens were the better team on the day and they eventually put enough pressure on us where we forced the game.

“Last year against Racing, we started so poorly. We gave away three tries in the first 20 minutes and made it really hard for ourselves. That’s completely different to the Saracens semi-final the year before where we did start well and we just didn’t have enough gas in the tank maybe, just not enough in our game that day to beat them which is fair enough and that’s easier to take.

The bottom line, however, is that Murray is ‘sick’ of talking about knocking on the door and getting close. 

“Look, I’m fed up knocking on the door,” he continues. “There are no bones about it, if you’re Munster, it’s all about the European Cup. It’s the one I want bar a World Cup.

“Growing up, seeing Paulie [O’Connell] and ROG [Ronan O’Gara] lift the trophy, to do it would pretty much mean everything to me. For the supporters, as much as us, we just really want to get past the semis.”

Munster have almost certainly evolved as a team since their last meeting with Saracens, as van Graan has introduced new attacking ideas and philosophies while the addition of players such as Joey Carbery and Tadhg Beirne means the province are now better equipped to challenge for a third European crown. But the real test of that will be on 20 April. 

“I’ll be able to tell you that after the game to be honest,” Murray says, when asked if he feels Munster have grown in the last two seasons.

Murray in training at UL this week. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I could tell you all the usual answers. You’ll find out after the game when we see. Yeah, we feel we’re better. Saracens are better. We’ve talked about the additions with Tadhg, Joey, Mike Haley who unfortunately got sick the [Edinburgh] morning of the game which was bad luck for him.

“We’ll see if that’s good enough to be able to beat Saracens. We fully believe in it, I fully believe we are but I’m kind of sick of saying ‘yeah we feel we can do it this year’ but we’re in a good place.”

While all the talk is of the Ricoh Arena date with Mark McCall’s side, Munster’s short-term focus is back on the Pro14 and victory over Cardiff Blues at Musgrave Park tonight [KO 7.35pm, TG4, eir Sport/Premier Sports] would assure them of a play-off berth.

Van Graan’s side will want more, though, and they hope a 13th successive home win in all competitions will put pressure on Conference A leaders Glasgow Warriors, who host Ulster later, as the race for a home semi-final heats up.

“Tonight is going to be big again because last week was us Irish lads’ first game coming back in with the Munster lads,” Murray, who starts a Pro14 game for the first time since December, adds.

Van Graan has made six changes to his starting XV for the visit of the Blues, one of which is injury enforced as Tyler Bleyendaal continues his half-back pairing with Murray as Joey Carbery is again frustrated by hamstring trouble.

Haley comes into the back three alongside Andrew Conway and Keith Earls, while Peter O’Mahony captains Munster in a back row unit with Chris Cloete and Arno Botha. 

Munster have not been beaten in Cork since tonight’s opponents won there by a single point in September 2016, but with a big crowd behind them and a formidable XV named to start, the hosts should build on their winning momentum towards Saracens.


15. Mike Haley
14. Andrew Conway
13. Chris Farrell
12. Rory Scannell
11. Keith Earls
10. Tyler Bleyendaal
9. Conor Murray

1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Kevin O’Byrne
3. John Ryan
4. Jean Kleyn
5. Billy Holland
6. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
7. Chris Cloete
8. Arno Botha


16. Niall Scannell
17. Jeremy Loughman
18. Stephen Archer
19. Tadhg Beirne
20. CJ Stander
21. Alby Mathewson
22. JJ Hanrahan
23. Sammy Arnold.

Cardiff Blues:

15. Gareth Anscombe
14. Owen Lane
13. Rey Lee-Lo
12. Willis Halaholo
11. Aled Summerhill
10. Jarrod Evans
9. Tomos Williams

1. Rhys Gill
2. Kristian Dacey (captain)
3. Dillon Lewis
4. Seb Davies
5. Rory Thornton
6. Shane Lewis-Hughes
7. Olly Robinson
8. Josh Turnbull


16. Ethan Lewis
17. Brad Thyer
18. Keiron Assiratti
19. George Earle
20. James Botham
21. Lloyd Williams
22. Garyn Smith
23. Matthew Morgan.

Referee: Marius Mitrea [Italy].

Gavan Casey and Ryan Bailey are joined by Bernard Jackman to look back on a thrilling weekend of European rugby on the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly:

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