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O’Gara And Munster Eye Winning Start

O’Gara And Munster Eye Winning Start

The Heineken Cup’s leading points scorer, Ronan O’Gara, can hardly wait to open his 2007/2008 account when Munster take on defending champions Wasps in Saturday’s pool opener at the Ricoh Stadium.

O’Gara needs 59 points to extend his tournament record to 900 and he warmed-up for the clash of the last two Heineken Cup winners by scoring 14 points on his return from World Cup action in Munster’s 19-16 Magners League win over Edinburgh last Saturday.

“The Heineken Cup is a fantastic competition, one that has great personal memories for me, and I’m sure that will apply to all Munster supporters and players,” said O’Gara.

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“We’re in a very difficult pool. It is one that I would have preferred not to have been drawn in. It would have been nice to have avoided a couple of these teams at this early stage to allow us to catch our breath at the start.

But with the likes of Wasps, Clermont Auvergne and the Scarlets in our pool, there is no chance of that. We have to be right from day one and any slip ups could mean we are under pressure. The quality of the competition improves year by year.

“I know that might sound like a cliché, but it is a simple, hard fact. We are setting ourselves up for Test match level rugby – starting at the Ricoh Stadium this weekend,” he added.

“The Heineken Cup games, even in the pool stages, are every bit as intense as the international matches. It may even be a question of there being greater pressure in this tournament because of the level of local support and passion that is so evident when we play in these games.”

Munster have stuttered in recent weeks in the Magners League, losing to both the Ospreys and Cardiff Blues and drawing with Glasgow, but Saturday’s defeat of Edinburgh at Musgrave Park, in which O’Gara made his first appearance of the season, got them back on track.

“As far as we are concerned in Munster, we’d be pretty happy with where we are in our build-up to the opening pool rounds. But we all know the challenge we face in Coventry is phenomenal,” O’Gara admitted.

“Wasps are a hugely experienced and battle-hardened side with a fantastic record in the competition. I think all our World Cup players have settled back into the Munster squad pretty well and the win at the weekend was just the tonic we needed.

“The way we managed to stick at it and come away with the points against a traditionally very organised Edinburgh side was very important. They came over looking for a win, no doubt about that, and it proved to be the ideal warm-up to what is going to be a massive game for us at the weekend.”

Wasps have already sold more than 20,000 tickets for Saturday’s showdown in Coventry and O’Gara is also looking forward to notching up another new venue on his Heineken Cup travel CV.

“I don’t believe for one minute that Wasps would have chosen to take us to the Ricoh Stadium if they thought it was going to put their side at a disadvantage. After all, they played and won there in the semi-final last season,” added the Corkman.

“Besides that, they are one of the most professional sides in club rugby and the venue will not act against them. As they showed against us at Lansdowne Road in the semi-final in 2004, the composition of the crowd won’t deter them.

“That said, I think we will give a good account of ourselves both on and off the field and it is going to be a cracking game – I can’t wait for it.”

It will be the fifth season in the last six Heineken Cup campaigns that Munster have kicked-off against English opposition. Last season a dramatic penalty goal from O’Gara from the halfway line saw the province overpower Leicester Tigers 21-19, while in 2005 they lost 27-13 at Sale Sharks. Even so, they went on to win the title that season with eight straight victories after that opening day defeat.

In 2004, Munster posted a home win over Harlequins at Thomond Park, winning their opening encounter by 15-9, while in 2002, they went down to a 35-16 defeat to Gloucester at Kingsholm.

That reverse was dramatically overturned with the famous ‘Miracle Match’ victory – 33-6, at Thomond Park in the sixth round of the pool stages – which led to another semi-final appearance for the men in red.

Munster Heineken Cup Factfile

Ronan O’Gara Ireland Player Profile

Photos From Munster’s 2006 Final Win