Munster coach Declan Kidney has made two changes to his squad for Sunday’s Pool 5 meeting with Clermont Auvergne (Thomond Park, kick-off 1pm), bringing winger Ian Dowling and scrum half Gerry Hurley into the matchday 22 in place of Anthony Horgan and pneumonia victim Tomas O’Leary.
Any lingering doubt over John Hayes was removed on Friday morning when the prop took a full part in training at Musgrave Park. Federico Pucciariello was on standby in the event that Hayes had not recovered fully from the neck strain he sustained in last weekend’s 24-23 defeat to Wasps in Coventry.
Kidney, who has kept faith with the remainder of the Munster side, knows his players face a tough task this weekend as a strong-looking Clermont Auvergne outfit travel north after last Sunday’s impressive bonus point victory over Llanelli Scarlets.
The Corkman said: “It’s the the quality of the player Clermont have right through, from 1 to 22. On top of that, the way they play the game and then the coaching structure that’s there. They’re an extremely well-prepared side – they would be right up there with the top sides we’ve played in the competition.
“To score seven tries against Llanelli is quite a feat. They can attack you in the different places. They can attack straight off set piece ball, off the lineout and go down the touchline. They have the strength to come around the corners at you and yet they have the skill to go wide and retain the ball.
“Their wingers are like two extra forwards in their size but at the same time they play with three full-backs. So any loose kicking has them counter attacking which they do very well,” he added.
“I don’t want to be making them out as something they’re not but they’re an extremely competent side and one of the very best we’ve played, I believe.”
Out-half Ronan O’Gara, who kicked 13 points against Wasps, will continue as Munster’s stand-in captain in the absence of back injury victim Paul O’Connell.
MUNSTER (v Clermont Auvergne): Shaun Payne; Brian Carney, Rua Tipoki, Lifeimi Mafi, Ian Dolwing; Ronan O’Gara (capt), Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll, Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.
Replacements: Frankie Sheahan, Tony Buckley, Anthony Foley, Jake Paringatai, Gerry Hurley, Paul Warwick, Kieran Lewis.