The journey begins again! Defending champions Munster are back in Heineken Cup action tonight, taking on French outfit Montauban in the first European match to be held at the redeveloped Thomond Park Stadium.
HEINEKEN CUP - POOL 1: Friday, October 10
MUNSTER v MONTAUBAN, Thomond Park Stadium, 8pm (live Sky Sports 2/HD2)
Team News: Munster coach Tony McGahan has made three changes to his team for Friday's Heineken Cup opener against French side Montauban.
Two of those changes are in the backs where Barry Murphy makes way for Lifeimi Mafi - Murphy is listed amongst the replacements - and Ian Dowling returns to the left wing in place of Anthony Horgan.
Up front, Jerry Flannery returns to the front row while Denis Fogarty gets the nod over Frankie Sheahan as hooker cover, following his recent run of form.
Commenting on the changes, McGahan said: "The side chosen for this first Heineken Cup game is one based on current form. This side is, we believe, the best fit to get a result against a very competitive Montauban fifteen.
"There were some tough decisions because almost the whole squad of players were given an opportunity to impress over the course of the Magners League campaign to date and put their hand up for selection.
"We haven't played against Montauban before but we have done a lot of analysis on them. They have a strong and physical forward pack, pace in the outside backs and possess a strong kicking game.
"Their consistent performances in the French Championship makes them fully deserving of a place in what is a very competitive pool alongside Clermont and Sale.
"Our approach is the same for every game in showing the opposition full respect while making sure we control our impact and decision making in getting the right result," the Australian added.
"We have learned from our first game at Thomond Park last Saturday night and the conditions we faced could be similar.
"We've to be focused on our ball carrying and ball protection, otherwise like all good French sides they can score from anywhere."
Meanwhile, Montauban have made wholesale changes to their team for their Heineken Cup debut and disappointingly, star names like Fiji's Vilimoni Delasau have not made the trip over.
With a firm eye on the Top 14 Championship, coaches Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers have made ten changes in personnel to the side that lost 34-16 at Stade Francais last weekend.
Although there are a number of big hitters missing, Munster fans will be familiar with some of the names on the visitors' teamsheet.
Experienced Scottish international Scott Murray will have ex-Connacht and Ulster man Rowan Frost as his second row partner.
Romanian international scrum half Petre Mitu will don the number 9 jersey, with Regis Lespinas, the former France Under-19 and Under-21 starlet, his half-back partner.
There is a Romanian, French and English flavour to the front row selection of Bogdan Balan, Brice Mach and Nick Adams.
Montauban are captained by former France back rower Marc Raynaud, who played for Clermont Auvergne in the 2002/03 Heineken Cup.
Based in Tarn-et-Garonne, north of Toulouse, they are the 55th club to play in the Heineken Cup - which is quite an achievement when you consider that this is only their eighth year in top flight French rugby.
Munster can expect a tough test when they venture to Stade de Sapiac in January as, fitness permitting, Delasau, Shannon Paku, Cedric Rosalen, Ibrahim Diarra, Goderzi Shvelidze and Benjamin Sa should be part of the matchday squad.
MUNSTER: Keith Earls; Doug Howlett, Rua Tipoki, Lifeimi Mafi, Ian Dowling; Ronan O'Gara, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Paul O'Connell (capt), Donncha O'Callaghan, Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, Justin Melck.
Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Federico Pucciariello, Donnacha Ryan, John O'Sullivan, Mike Prendergast, Paul Warwick, Barry Murphy.
MONTAUBAN: Johan Dalla Riva; Sylvain Jonnet, Jean Philippe Viard, Rida Jahouer, Jean Emmanuel Cassin; Regis Lespinas, Petre Mitu; Bogdan Balan, Brice Mach, Nick Adams, Scott Murray, Rowan Frost, Yannick Caballero, Marc Raynaud (capt), Matthew Clarkin.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England) Assistant Referees: Chris White, Robin Goodliffe (both England) Television Match Official: Graham Hughes (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power):Munster to win: 1/250; Draw: 100/1; Montauban to win: 33/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Alan Quinlan (Munster) - "(The Heineken Cup's) different alright. No question about that. You feel it in the week leading up to the game.
"There's a different atmosphere in the town. Everyone is looking forward to it. No matter who we're playing, there's that little bit of an extra buzz.
"Even in training like, even though we prepare in exactly the same way as for any other side. There's still that extra edge to things.
"We've studied videos of Montauban and they're a side that we need to respect a lot. And we will give them that respect.
"But we need to go out and play this game on our terms, to our game plan. We have to be confident in ourselves, comfortable in the role each of us has to play.
"I'm happy we've put in the work. It's all about putting yourself in the right position to deliver the performance that is required to get over the finishing line in front. Hopefully that's what we can do that (on Friday)."
Marc Raynaud (Montauban) - "We are very happy and honoured to be part of this competition. It's up to us now to build on that fantastic opportunity and make the most of it.
"Although we are in a very difficult pool, we are going to do our best. I think we will play without too much pressure and, above all else, take pleasure in just playing in the tournament.
"For us the main focus is on our national championship but we will fight also in the European tournament.
"As regards the Munster match, I must admit that the fact that we are going to play in their brand new stadium at Thomond Park means we could not have hoped or asked for a better start.
"If we get a full house and 26,000 spectators that will be awesome and that alone will inspire and lift those boys who have never experienced such an occasion as only a few amongst us know what that is like.
"We will try to play to the maximum of our capacities and we know it is going to be tough against the European champions.
"But we are going to enjoy it as much as we possibly can ? and play for pleasure."
Current Form - Munster (Magners League): Won 20-15 away to Edinburgh; Won 50-6 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 28-20 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Won 18-0 away to Leinster; Won 25-17 at home to Glasgow Warriors
Montauban (Top 14): Won 37-19 at home to Mont de Marsan; Lost 22-20 away to Bayonne; Won 18-14 at home to Bourgoin; Lost 32-10 away to Montpellier; Lost 41-10 at home to Toulouse; Won 24-23 at home to Castres Olympique; Lost 34-16 away to Stade Francais
Previous European Meetings: 0
Heineken Cup Records:
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Reached the semi-finals
2002/03: Reached the semi-finals
2000/01: Reached the semi-finals
1998/99: Reached the quarter-finals
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool D
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool D
1995/96: Failed to qualify from Pool D
Montauban - 2008/09: First season in Heineken Cup
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Munster to win by more than 20 points (and with four tries or more)