Jerry Flannery: Munster expect to be tested by Connacht
Galway-born Munster assistant coach looks ahead to the interprovincial Guinness PRO12 clash on New Year's Day
Former Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery expects Munster to face a big challenge when they take on Connacht at the Sportground on New Year’s Day.
We’re aware that this is a real challenge…it can be quite an intimidating place. I don’t know if I will enjoy it so much going up there with Munster.
Leinster and the Scarlets are just two of the PRO12 clubs to have lost in Galway in the first half of the season, while French clubs La Rochelle and Bayonne have both lost at Connacht in the European Challenge Cup, and the match on Thursday is already sold out.
And the 36-year-old Galwegian, who spent most of his playing career at Munster after starting out at Connacht, expects a passionate capacity crowd to play a factor in the interprovincial match.
“We’re aware that this is a real challenge,” Flannery said.
“I know from playing there and when working for TG4 that the people who go to watch Connacht don’t just go to be entertained, they go because they want their team to win and they get behind them no matter what.
“I always really enjoyed going to Connacht because I felt there was a really good atmosphere in the Sportsground.
“I think that’s built on the fact that they’ve been bringing through more and more local players that people can identify with.
“It can be quite an intimidating place. I don’t know if I will enjoy it so much going up there with Munster. I think they have done a fantastic job.
“I haven’t worked under Pat Lam, but I have worked under [their assistant coach] Dan McFarland and I think he is a very astute coach, one of the best in Irish rugby.”
Munster go into the Guinness PRO12 clash in third place on the back of securing a season double over rivals Leinster for the first time since 2009 on St Stephen’s Day with an impressive display at Thomond Park.
When I was there Connacht were talking about building their own legacy and they have really stepped it up this year. They are undefeated at home, which shows how strong they are.
Pat Lam’s side have fallen to successive interpro defeats to Leinster and Ulster, but have exceeded expectation this season and occupy sixth place in the PRO12, just nine points behind their opponents, a win is far from guaranteed as Anthony Foley’s side have lost their last two matches on the road to Clermont Auvergne and Glasgow Warriors, while Connacht are unbeaten at home.
But Flannery, who rejoined Munster as an assistant coach in the summer after a spell in soccer as a strength and conditioning coach at Arsenal, insists Munster are looking to build on their win over Leinster.
“I’m going back to where it kind of all started for me,” he added. “I’m looking forward to it.
“We got a good win over Leinster and we are hoping to build on that.
“It was important for us on the back of losing three games to pull out the performance we did against Leinster on St Stephen’s Day.
“If I was Leinster I would be pretty disappointed because they are a lot better than they showed at Thomond Park.”
Number 8 Robin Copeland is out of the clash with a shoulder injury, but flanker Tommy O’Donnell and full-back Felix Jones are both available despite picking up knocks.
Munster will be further boosted by the availability of international quartet Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray and Simon Zebo, who were all rested for the interpro clash with Leinster through the national team programme, but all four may not start.
“As far as I know everyone is available to us,” Flannery said.
“What is going to limit them is really their general health and fitness. We have named a fairly big squad so far because we are not sure.
“We will see who comes through training this week and who we put out onto the field for the Connacht game.”
The last time Munster lost three in a row on the road came in March 2013, but the three-time Celtic League champions are unbeaten in their last three outings against provincial opposition.
Connacht’s only victory in their last 41 encounters with Munster going back to 1986 came at the Sportsground in the PRO12 six years ago when current Munster outside-half Ian Keatley kicked four penalty goals for Connacht in a 12-6 win, which also saw the then 21-year-old pick up the man of the match award.
And Keatkley concedes that Connacht are a much improved side from the one he was a part of.
“When I was there Connacht were talking about building their own legacy and they have really stepped it up this year,” Keatley said.
“They are undefeated at home, which shows how strong they are, and they will have their 16th man behind them on New Year’s Day which will create a great atmosphere.”