Donncha O'Callaghan Munster

Donncha O'Callaghan gets stopped in his tracks during Munster's defeat to Toulon

Munster’s early eviction from the Heineken Cup has prompted claims that they are now over the hill, and losing their position as one of Europe’s top dogs. Seilala Mapusua’s try in the 68th minute put visitors London Irish 14-7 ahead, and for a while it looked like Munster could come off second best for only the second time in Thomond Park’s Heineken Cup history.

But the boys in red fought back, scoring two tries in 10 minutes to bag a bonus point win an a spot in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals, and the squad’s insiders say there is still a big future for Munster rugby.

Back-rower Denis Leamy, who captained the side against London Irish, was pleased with Munster’s response to the threat of a second defeat in a row, and insists that although the side has under-performed at times this season, there is still plenty of quality in the side to take the team forward.

“The way we finished the game was pleasing. We could have died away and gone into our shells,” said Leamy.

“You only need to look at the younger guys and the A result last night (Munster A beat Esher 64-9 in the British and Irish Cup) to see that we’ve real quality right round the squad, and we can continue being a big force in rugby,” continued Leamy. “I don’t accept that it’s over for us.”

Mick O’Driscoll, who partnered Paul O’Connell in the second row in place of Donncha O’Callaghan, insists that despite the disappointment of failing to qualify for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, there was no problem motivating the team for the final round of pool games.

“It’s a massive disappointment to be out of the Heineken Cup, but motivation is never an issue for us,” said O’Driscoll. “We’ll strive to win the Amlin Challenge Cup, and we will put everything into any quarter-final we reach.”

O’Driscoll also claims that Munster are their own harshest critics, and has no doubt that the team will bounce back stronger than ever.

“A lot’s been said about us but what gets said amongst the four walls of our changing room is as harsh as anywhere,” said O’Driscoll.

“We have massive experience in our team and I firmly believe we can come back from this,” he continued. “There’s still competitions to be won in the next few months, it’s just little areas we need to tweak and improve on. We’re going in the right direction, and we will be a strong force next season.”

One man in agreement with Leamy and O’Driscoll is London Irish coach Toby Booth, who said: “There’s no doubting the quality in the Munster side; playing them is like playing Ireland, and it’s a great test to pitch ourselves against them.”

Re-live some of Munster’s better days with these highlights of their 2008 Heineken Cup victory