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Better balance, big calls and the need to improve

Guinness PRO12 Editor

18 May 2011

Tony McGahan admits Munster will have to improve on recent performances if they are to be crowned Magners League Champions in a week-and-a-half’s time.

McGahan’s men were the standout side in the regular season, winning an incredible 19 of their 22 fixtures and booking a semi-final spot with room to spare.

But an Amlin Challenge Cup defeat to Harlequins rocked the boat recently and, although victories over Connacht and the Ospreys have led to a Grand Final spot, McGahan believes his team will have to be at their best to topple in-form Leinster a week on Saturday.

“We will certainly need to raise the stakes, there is no doubt about that,” said McGahan.

“Leinster are playing with a lot of confidence, they are very dynamic in the breakdown area, dynamic in the carry, they have got a really settled side that has been playing excellent rugby.

“They have come through a really tough group in the Heineken Cup and they have certainly been the most consistent and probably the best side in Europe, no doubt.”

McGahan did see signs of improvement in the 18-11 Play-Off win over the Ospreys last time out, however.

Although the scoreline was rather closer than the Red Army would have liked, Munster’s dominance against the reigning champions suggested Grand Final glory is still well within their reach.

“It was a better balance of what we’re trying to do,” added McGahan, who saw his side score two tries through Danny Barnes while Munster’s own line was only breached late on when the result was almost beyond doubt.

“We had a lot more patience, intensity and purpose; we were more direct and when the opportunities presented themselves we were able to take them. We would have liked to take a few more but that’s the pressure of semi-finals.”

As for the Grand Final itself, much talk surrounds McGahan’s selection dilemmas, especially as Munster are likely to be facing a Leinster side for whom many outsiders could name their best XV in a matter of moments.

McGahan opted for 21-year-old development pro Barnes in the centre last weekend, meaning the youngster became Lifeimi Mafi’s sixth midfield partner this term. Barnes was hugely impressive but the 2009 Magners League winners have now employed 12 different centre combinations in 2010/11 and you’d be a brave man to put your mortgage on the latest pair starting the season’s showpiece event.

Then there’s who to pick at scrum-half, with veteran Peter Stringer fighting young Connor Murray for a starting spot in the absence of Tomas O’Leary.

Throw in some difficult decisions in the front and back rows and Thomond Park may see a different Munster side to the one that qualified for the Grand Final, as McGahan freely admits.

“We made a lot of tough calls this week and there were a lot of quality players who were not even in the 23.

“We haven’t been afraid to make big calls before and we will have to wait and see. Just because there were 23 out there on Saturday doesn’t mean they will be in the 23 in two weeks’ time.”