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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Munster expecting a backlash in Champions Cup clash against wounded Sharks

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Durban — Munster coach Graham Rowntree is under no illusions as to the challenge awaiting his team on Saturday at Hollywoodbets Kings Park against a Sharks team much chastised after their dismal failure at Scarlets last week.

Sharks captain Siya Kolisi frankly disguised that performance as “absolute nonsense” and the wily Rowntree — a veteran of many a tour to South Africa when he was a prop for England — knows that a backlash is coming Munster’s way in the Champions Cup last-16 knock-out game.

There will be eight current Springboks in the Sharks team on Saturday, including first-choice forwards Kolisi, Bongi Mbonambi and Eben Etzebeth. Also, a big crowd is expected because it is the annual Sharkfest — all manner of entertainment and markets will light up the Kings Park precinct.

“Crikey! The Sharks can play,” said Rowntree. “They’ve some pace on the edges and a monster pack. It will be very similar to playing against Toulouse. They’re big, heavy and quick.

“If you watched them on Saturday, they lost to Scarlets but they were a handful. They can score tries, but you talk about their power game, it’s very impressive. I’d compare them to a Toulouse — the way they’re able to play the game. They have serious quality up front and you have to respect their maul and scrum.”

For this reason, Rowntree says his team’s discipline has to be spot on.

“That’s the one thing that was actually good in our loss to Glasgow (Warriors) last week, we conceded just seven penalties. Our discipline has got to be as good this weekend because I don’t really want to be defending mauls all day, not with the size of their pack,” he said.

On the other side of the coin, the Sharks understand that Munster are no mugs. The Irish team have won the Champions Cup twice. They had won three games in a row before Glasgow derailed them last week and there will also be a strong reaction from them.

Also, Rowntree this week can pick two returning Ireland internationals in flank Peter O’Mahony and scrumhalf Conor Murray while two first-choice players — hooker Niall Scannell and centre Antoine Frisch are returning from injury.

“We’re certainly looking to play rugby,” Rowntree said. “We don’t suddenly become a rubbish team overnight, although halftime didn’t feel like that on Saturday. As I said on Saturday we can score tries, but we can’t give ourselves a mountain to climb as we did.

“We’ve been preparing for the Sharks quietly, we’ve had other games to concentrate on, but we’ve been preparing for these conditions in the background. We’ve done our research.”


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