THREE weeks after BT Murrayfield was painted green and turned into something of an Irish pleasure dome, Edinburgh will be looking to restore some Scottish pride tonight.
On that heady final Saturday afternoon of the RBS Six Nations Championship, the Scottish hospitality laid on for our Celtic cousins could not have been more generous – both on and off the pitch. After a hugely disappointing second-half collapse saw Scotland slump to a 40-10 defeat, thousands of Irish supporters stayed on at the home of Scottish rugby to carouse raucously as the final match was played on a big screen. As England fell just short at Twickenham, a party to rival any held four days earlier on St Patrick’s Day was sparked into life as Ireland’s second successive championship was confirmed. The Irish players cavorted with the trophy on a pitch illuminated by fireworks and the fans lapped it up in the stands.
This evening, a Munster side including many of the players, and no doubt a fair few of the supporters, who turned the stadium into a small corner of the Emerald Isle for the night will return with happy memories still vivid and fresh. But Edinburgh are determined to pull the welcome mat from under them this time. The Guinness Pro12 clash is a crucial one for both sides as Edinburgh continue to push for the top-six finish that will secure a place in the European Champions Cup next season and high-flying Munster look to cement a semi-final place, ideally a home one if they can end up in the top two.
Such is Edinburgh’s craving for a return to the elite continental competition that all talk of next weekend’s European Challenge Cup semi-final at home to Newport Gwent Dragons has been put on hold.
Coach Alan Solomons has kept faith in the starting XV who won that last-four berth in a dramatic quarter-final triumph at London Irish last Sunday and admitted that it had been an easy decision to make, made even more straightforward by Jack Cuthbert’s failure to shake off a groin injury.
“It wasn’t that long a selection meeting,” said the South African. “We gave Jack a chance but he didn’t come through a fitness test on Tuesday so he was out of the mix.
“I wouldn’t say it was our best game last week but the boys showed a lot of character in getting the win so I think they deserve to go out there for what is going to be a massive game.”
Edinburgh secured a notable 14-13 win in Limerick in the first league match of the campaign and Munster have had a rare off season in Europe, failing to get out of their pool, so they come off the back of a rest week.
But Munster remain a formidable force and that European setback is sure to drive the three-time Pro12 winners and two-time European champions on in the closing rounds in search of the glory their fanatical fans demand.
“We know we’ll have to play very well,” said Solomons. “The break they have had will be good for their Test players. They’ve got some key guys in the Irish set-up and Ireland had a great Six Nations so they’ll have a lot of confidence as a team. And then, of course, the Pro12 is the only thing they can win now.
“Their coach Anthony Foley came to watch us at London Irish. He’s a good guy and a good coach but he’s not going to come down to watch us unless they regard this game as very important. They are pretty much at full strength, well rested and highly motivated.”
Solomons, who spent three years in Ireland coaching Ulster, has the highest regard for Munster and what they have achieved over the years. “I’ve got a huge respect for Munster from my time at Ulster,” he stressed.
“There have been times when Ulster have been strong, and Leinster have been very strong but I think in Ireland it is Munster that is very much looked upon as the heartbeat of Irish rugby.”
Solomons said he doesn’t believe that Scottish players and teams suffer from any inferiority complex when it comes to facing the Irish but accepts the game is at a different level across the water.
“I wouldn’t say there was a psychological block for either Glasgow or Edinburgh,” he explained. “What the Irish do have is much bigger budgets. But I think you’ve got to give credit to Ireland. I went to Ulster in 2001 and you just had very impressive guys running Irish rugby – guys like Syd Millar, who is one of the most exceptional men I’ve come across in the game, Tommy Kiernan, Noel Murphy, Ronnie Dawson.
“They put Ireland right when it came to professional rugby and did all the right things. The Irish provinces and the Irish game has flourished because of the influence of those men.”
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