Judgement day beckons this weekend for Johann van Graan and Munster, with French side Castres standing between them and qualification for the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup.
The Limerick-based side are well-placed, currently sitting atop Pool Four of the competition thanks to last weekend’s bonus point earned away at Racing 92.
Munster have thus far accrued 16 points, one more than Racing in second and four ahead of Castres in third, but all three sides could yet qualify and nobody will be willing to take a backwards step this weekend.
Munster’s strong performances so far in the competition have put them in a good position heading into the final weekend of the pool stages, with qualification in their own hands and just a home victory required to seal it.
The odds are in the Thomond Park side’s favour, with every team around Europe daunted by a trip to Limerick and Munster often seemingly indestructible there.
“We know the score, we have to go out and perform as well as we can.”
A win on Sunday against in-form Castres at @ThomondStadium would see Munster advance to the Champions Cup knock-out stages for a record 17th time.
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) January 17, 2018
Already this season Racing have visited and been defeated, 14-7, whilst English giants Leicester Tigers found the going even tougher in front of the Red Army, going down 33-10.
But, as always in the final round in Europe anything can happen, nerves are always there and there are always one or two crazy results in Round Six of the Champions Cup.
Munster and Castres drew the reverse fixture 17-17 back in Round One but it could have been much worse for the Irish province had Benjamin Urdapilleta not missed two late attempts to win it with the boot.
And whilst Munster were given a thorough workout in the defeat to Racing last week, Castres will come into this one slightly fresher having enjoyed a breezy 39-0 victory over Leicester’s second string on Sunday.
THE WIDER PICTURE
With all that considered, Munster should beat the French side at the weekend but will want a bonus point to ensure they finish as pool-winners ahead of Racing, who will also look to run up the points against already-out Leicester.
There is also the matter of a home quarter-final to play for, with only the four best pool-winners gaining that advantage.
Again, the bonus point will be extremely crucial in achieving this – an away tie in the next round would be a much, much steeper hill to climb.
Depending on who you ask, Munster are generally third favourites to win the competition outright this season, trailing Leinster and Clermont Auvergne in the stakes.
The Red Army haven’t yet blown a top side away, as Leinster did to Glasgow Warriors and Clermont did away at Saracens, but have been quietly impressive and fearsome at times, especially in the double-header with Leicester.
Simon Zebo has shown plenty of his old tricks, Conor Murray has proved once again that he’s one of the best scrum-halves in the world and the back-row, led by Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander, has been dominant.
Munster may not have clicked into top gear just yet, but are adept at the final stages of the European competitions and are currently well-poised to reach at least the final four once again.