But then, a few too many people have doubted Munster in the past, and last Sunday they reminded everyone just how focused they still are with a hugely impressive 24-16 victory over English club Sale.
And to cap a good weekend for the two main Irish provinces, Leinster produced one of their finest ever performances to crush London Wasps by 41-11 in Dublin.
Munster coach, Tony McGahan, had responded to his team’s stumbling win over Montauban from France in the first game by ringing a few changes, and all the switches and adjustments came good as they not alone got the better of Sale, but also deprived their opponents of a losing bonus point.
Midway through the second half, Sale, who had destroyed a highly-rated Clermont Auvergne in their opening pool match, drew level at 16-16, and with Munster temporarily creaking under the strain, it seemed as if the home team would push on to another success.
But under the most intense pressure, Munster have proved themselves time and time again, and this was no exception. They kept their nerve, and first David Wallace plunged over for a try, and then Ronan O’Gara dropped a long-range goal to seal the result.
“The pleasing thing from our point of view was that our character was tested again,” said O’Gara. “In the first game against Montauban, our performance wasn’t up to scratch, and we were behind with three minutes to go. This time, we were tested again, and with 20 minutes to go, it was game on and we pulled away in the end.”
Munster had a first-half try by full back Paul Warwick, who also landed a drop goal, and with Paul O’Connell and Alan Quinlan once again in excellent form, center Lifeimi Mafi gave a brilliant defensive display which featured a devastating tackle on Sale’s Sebastien Chabal.
“That was another chapter in Munster history,” said coach McGahan. “Full credit to the players, they were outstanding and it was just a great result all round.” Munster now lead Pool One by three points with their next game in France against Clermont scheduled for 7 December as the competition takes a break during Ireland’s upcoming international fixtures against Canada, New Zealand and Argentina.
Meanwhile, Leinster’s lead in Pool Two is a massive six points following their demolition of Wasps. One of only two teams in the competition – Cardiff are the other – with a maximum 10 points from the two opening games, even at this early stage, they are on the right track to qualify for the quarter-finals.
The only negative news to emerge from the RDS concerned Brian O’Driscoll, who had to replaced at the interval because of a twisted knee, and team captain Leo Cullen who broke his collar bone. Despite the absence of two key players, Leinster still managed to blitz Wasps with 26 unanswered points in the second half.
O’Driscoll’s injury is not deemed serious enough to force him out of next month’s internationals, and there were more signs in that first half that he is almost back to peak form. He scored two tries of stunning opportunism to rubber-stamp the impression made in the previous game against Edinburgh, and although Wasps only trailed by 15-11 at the break, they were no match for the winners in a hopelessly one-sided second period.
Even with his team already on the verge of the knockout stages with a home and away series to come against French side Castres in early December, coach Michael Cheika wasn’t about to get carried away. “Realistically, we have to concentrate on the next game. I know it’s a clich