World Cup-winning Springbok midfielder Damian de Allende has set his sights on the PRO14 trophy and believes his club Munster have the ambition to cause a massive upset in the semifinals this weekend against champions Leinster.
Leinster won the fixture a fortnight ago between the two clubs, taking the spoils narrowly 27-25 and are unbeaten this season, but De Allende says under South African coach Johann van Graan he sees the type of ambition that brings trophies and that excites him.
“For me personally no matter where I play I always strive to win tournaments and championships. I signed for Munster because I feel they have the credentials, the coaching staff and the heart,” he said ahead of the semifinal.
“From what I’ve watched on television, and obviously I have only played two games here, but I feel they have that team environment that they actually want to achieve, where you could go to another squad and you will have all the names and stars but they aren’t working for that success.
“I feel just playing in these two games there is a real want and desire to win the semifinals and finals, and not just once or twice, but consistently. And not just in Pro14, but in the Champions Cup as well. Friday night is going to be a very tough encounter but hopefully, we will pitch up.
“We know it is just a mental thing. We haven’t played a lot of rugby over the past six months, so there will be a few sore bodies. I think if we get the right mindset and we pitch up knowing we have one opportunity, and not worry about anything else, just stay in that moment for 80 minutes then hopefully we can walk off with big smiles on our faces on Friday night.”
De Allende feels right at home in the tribal clash between the two sides and says it reminds him of the north-south derbies between the Stormers and Bulls in South Africa.
“I think it is quite personal, for me, it is quite similar to when I played for the Stormers against the Bulls. It is like a north-south derby, it is personal and physical,” he said.
“It gets quite intense on the field, even though you have a massive amount of respect for each other. I’m not Irish but those Irish guys are competing for spots to play for Ireland, but there is still that mutual respect for each other on and off the pitch.
“I probably need to play a few more, but I certainly do understand the way they see it and it is very encouraging to help them beat Leinster as well.”
Leinster will start as odds-on favourites but Munster hopes to be third time lucky – the third time they will face their rivals in PRO14 playoff games in as many years. And De Allende is chomping at the bit to get out there.
His match-up against Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose – the incumbent Irish centres will be keenly watched, especially after the Leinster pair got the better of Munster in the last clash.
“They are both world-class centres, both have been very good at international level. Leinster was very good and they put in some good kicks behind us as well. We know that we can’t put too many at the breakdown, sometimes we are committing too many guys, especially on our defensive line.
“If we commit too many guys and we are short on defence, they will exploit us very easily. They did so in that first game. We need to be aware of that, they are also very physical and very fast and we will have to be switched on.”
De Allende believes while the first game took its toll physically after so long off, the team needed their win over Connacht last week to give them confidence for Friday night.
“I would say pretty decent. Obviously that first game against Leinster was pretty tough on the body, I’d been out for long, and hadn’t played. And to come up against Leinster, a world-class team, the number one or two team in the world at the moment at club level is quite a challenge.
“It is a good test for us as a team going forward. We had quite a few new guys who came in as well and I think we held up well. Last week was a lot better in terms of the result, but it was also very good for the semifinals.
“Connacht was very physical. There was a lot of energy and it felt like we needed almost a tough game like that before a semifinal, leading up to Friday night.”