Preview: Munster v Gunners
Arguably it was against Munster in the first game of the New Year that the wheels started to come off the Gunners season. True we'd been mugged by the Borders at Netherdale, and made to look like mugs at Glasgow, but our home record in the league was intact, and we'd picked up away wins at Llanelli and Leinster. However, the warning signs had been there for all to see, as the Gunners struggled to put sides away and made heavy weather of what should have been easy victories.
At the time of that one-point loss to Munster it was possible to look forward hopefully to this weekend's fixture as a real chance to get revenge. But the catastrophic collapse in form suffered by the Gunners since then means there is little realistic prospect of that happening. The Gunners last win on the road was also in January, when they beat the Cardiff team that walloped them last weekend. That is the measure of how far the Gunners have fallen in 2006.
On the other hand, not everything in Munster's garden is rosy. They may have qualified for the Heineken Cup semi-final, but they've lost their last three Celtic League fixtures, away to Newport and Ulster, and, most significantly for us, at home to Glasgow. Even their last Celtic League win, over the Dragons at home, was an unconvincing 10-8 affair. From being league leaders they have slipped to third place, just one point ahead of the Gunners. But that gap is deceptive; Munster have yet to bank their second "Free Weekend" bonus and so are guaranteed another four points. Those bonus points take them much closer to Leinster and Ulster above them, but with Ulster also still to collect their second set of 4 bonus points it seems probable that Ulster may now be out of Munster's reach, unless they too suffer a dramatic loss of form.
So it's just possible that a Munster team, with one eye on the Heineken Cup and perhaps having subconsciously written off the league, could be there for the taking. Sadly, it would probably take a better team than this Gunners side has become to take advantage of this opportunity. Expect Munster to win by the proverbial country mile.