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Opposition admit to Munster’s Thomond Park factor

Guinness PRO12 Editor

9 Apr 2010

When it comes to big games and big challenges, it doesn’t get much bigger than facing double European kings Munster on their own patch.

Munster may have been beaten by Leinster last week but the reigning Magners League Champions have only lost once at their Thomond Park home in European fixtures since the birth of continental competition 15 years ago. 

Northampton Saints are the latest side to attempt to buck the trend when they travel to Ireland for the European quarter-final this Saturday. 

The likes of fellow English powerhouses London Wasps, Gloucester, Sale Sharks and Harlequins have all been well beaten in Limerick at a ground which produces arguably the most vociferous and intimidating atmosphere in world rugby. 

And Northampton veteran Bruce Reihana readily admits that playing at Thomond Park presents a unique challenge, one which a number of the Northampton players failed to rise to last time around.

“The first time there, with the noise that was created, the occasion got to a few of the boys,” added Reihana, who was part of the Northampton side beaten 12-9 at the same venue in the group stages this January. 

“It’s the ferocity of it all – seeing everyone on their feet. They’ve got so much passion.

“When I was warming up, you could see their faces, screaming at you and showing their true emotion. It’s much more than just support – it’s almost like they’re on the pitch as well. 

“I think it’s brilliant how much they love their team and support them and I think that’ a key part in why Munster are such a great team.”

Thomond Park may have got the better of some of the Saints stars in Round 1 but Reihana say he himself the kind of player who revels in such a hostile atmosphere.

Somewhat perversely, he enjoys the sense of being bullied, taunted and outnumbered on foreign lands, believing that it adds that something special to what would be a memorable encounter regardless.

And if experience has taught Reihana to enjoy the magnitude of such occasions, the former All Black feels that Northampton’s first taste of the Munster masses will ensure the squad deal with the pressures far better this time around.

“I didn’t find it intimidating myself, being an old fella and having had a few occasions like that. I just used it to spur me on.

“I like to smile with the crowd, to clap them and applaud because without them we’re nothing.

“It really excites me when the crowd goes nuts. The best thing is when you don’t make a mistake or you bust a tackle, they go quiet.

“We’ve talked as a team about using that atmosphere to inspire yourself and enthuse yourself – don’t be overawed; be excited.

“Learning from that and knowing what’s coming, we can be a very different side this time around.

“I’d love to win there. I think that’s a special feeling. It’s a massive task but it’s certainly doable.”