THERE IS A similar scenario at play in both of this week’s inter-provincial derbies.
One province setting the pace in their conference and teetering on the edge of qualifying for the Pro14 final, the other province lies second and probably needs to cut the deficit on the table by a full five points to stand a chance of preventing a Munster v Leinster showdown next month.
Connacht trail the southern province in Conference A by nine points ahead of Friday’s clash at Thomond Park (kick-off 19.35, eir Sport) and Steven Larkham’s side will have home advantage – such as it is these days – in their other two remaining regular season matches against Scarlets and Benetton.
Fullback Tiernan O’Halloran, though, retains hope of reeling in a final berth.
“If we win this weekend, 100% it’s possible. If we can get a swing on them this weekend and try and get out of the game taking the four points without them getting any it could be huge for us in terms of the rest of the season.,” says O’Halloran.
“Obviously, I know we would need them to slip up again, but putting pressure on and controlling what we can control (is all we can do).
“It would be huge for us to get a win this weekend. We can’t look past that, but it is something that will definitely be in our heads. It’s a must win game for us.”
This year saw Connacht finally complete a suite of modern away wins against provincial rivals as they stunned Leinster at the RDS. Munster was the first pillar toppled by the western province when Bundee Aki flew into a Thomond Park corner during their 2015/16 title-winning campaign. However, while they have won in Belfast and Dublin since, Limerick has again turned into an unhappy hunting ground.
To upset the odds this weekend they will need O’Halloran running in open ground created by forward effort.
“They put so much pressure on your breakdown. I think that’s where we struggled a bit in the (August) game up in the Aviva. They really disrupted out attacking maul and slowed down our breakdown which was tough.
“The have such a jackal threat. Tadhg Beirne and CJ might not be playing, but they still have so many back-rows that put a lot of pressure on that breakdown.
“They look to slow it down and, with the big bodies they have, they look to create line-speed and shut you down behind the gainline. I think it’s really important to create that attacking front-foot football from us to make sure we are effective and accurate at the breakdown, speed up the play and then we can play on top of them.”