Munster, the Pool 1 leaders who also currently top the Magners League, will venture back to Stade Marcel Michelin on Sunday – a venue where they picked up a crucial losing bonus point during last season’s successful European campaign.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 1: Sunday, December 7
CLERMONT AUVERGNE v MUNSTER, Stade Marcel Michelin, 4pm local time/3pm Irish time (live Sky Sports 2)
Team News: Despite the absence of Rua Tipoki, Denis Hurley, Jerry Flannery and Denis Leamy, the Munster starting line-up for Sunday’s Heineken Cup Pool 1 encounter with Clermont Auvergne shows just three changes from the one that started last time out in Europe against Sale Sharks.
Neither Tipoki or Leamy were involved in the Edgeley Park game but this time around the one change in the back personnel sees Barry Murphy preferred to Paul Warwick.
Up front, Frankie Sheahan comes in for the injured Flannery at hooker, while Niall Ronan gets the nod ahead of John O’Sullivan.
Murphy’s inclusion sees him team up with Lifeimi Mafi in the centre with Keith Earls moving to full-back.
With Ronan wearing the number 7 jersey, Donnacha Ryan, along with James Coughlan, provides strong back row cover from the bench.
Despite the surprise 12-11 defeat of Sunday’s opposition by Mont-de-Marsan, Munster lock Donncha O’Callaghan anticipates a huge challenge in Clermont.
“If anything, that defeat will probably make them even more determined. Besides that, they’ll be looking to put one over on us for last season when we effectively stopped them making the knock-out stages,” he said.
“I’ve never played a game in France that wasn’t hugely demanding and this one will be right up there with internationals in terms of speed, intensity, physicality anything you care to mention.”
CLERMONT AUVERGNE: Anthony Floch; Aurelien Rougerie (capt), Benoit Baby, Seremaia Bai, Julien Malzieu; Brock James, Pierre Mignoni; Thomas Domingo, Mario Ledesma, Davit Zirakashvili, Julien Pierre, Loic Jacquet, Jamie Cudmore, Alexandre Lapandry, Julien Bonnaire.
Replacements: Mirko Lozupone, Laurent Emmanuelli, Alexandre Audebert, Elvis Vermeulen, John Senio, Pierre-Manuel Garcia, Grant Esterhuizen.
MUNSTER: Keith Earls; Doug Howlett, Barry Murphy, Lifeimi Mafi, Ian Dowling; Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary; Marcus Horan, Frankie Sheahan, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell (capt), Alan Quinlan, Niall Ronan, David Wallace.
Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Tony Buckley, Donnacha Ryan, James Coughlan, Peter Stringer, Paul Warwick, Kieran Lewis.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Touch Judges: Rob Debney, Robin Goodliffe (both England)
Television Match Official: Graham Hughes (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Clermont Auvergne to win: 4/6; Draw: 20/1; Munster to win: 5/4
Pre-Match Quotes: Paul O’Connell (Munster) – “While it was a huge boost to get a win over the Dragons last week, we know our second half performance wasn’t what was required.
“I thought though that we showed huge character to get back down there after the penalty try and then Rog (Ronan O’Gara) did the rest as only he can.
“Of course we’d be realistic, disappointed with that second half but to keep producing performances you have to be emotional and passionate week in, week out and that’s a hard thing to do. A very hard thing to do.
“That’s why the Magners League is so important. It gives lads the opportunity to put their hands up and I think we’ve seen that happen the past few weeks.
“No side in this competition or anywhere could be happy losing the likes of Rua, Denis Hurley, Jerry or Leamy on an individual basis, never mind at the same time.
“But we have 30 odd players hungry to be in the starting fifteen and that can only be a good thing. I think that’s an indicator that our squad is stronger now than it has been in the past,”
Heineken Cup Top Scorers – Current Season: Clermont Auvergne: Tries: Napolioni Vonowale Nalaga 2; Points: Brock James 24; Munster: Tries: Barry Murphy, Paul Warwick, David Wallace 1 each; Points: Ronan O’Gara 25
Current Form – Clermont Auvergne – (Top 14): Lost 22-16 away to Toulon; Won 43-20 at home to Montpellier; Lost 17-6 away to Bayonne; Won 16-6 at home to Toulouse; Lost 12-6 away to Castres Olympique; Won 32-6 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Won 30-23 away to Bourgoin; (Heineken Cup): Lost 32-15 at home to Sale Sharks; Won 24-19 away to Montauban; (Top 14): Lost 30-25 at home to Montauban; Won 22-6 at home to Stade Francais; Lost 18-16 away to Brive; Won 29-9 at home to Perpignan; Lost 12-11 away to Mont-de-Marsan
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; (Heineken Cup): Won 19-17 at home to Montauban; Won 24-16 away to Sale Sharks; (Magners League): Lost 22-6 away to Ulster; (Friendly): Lost 18-16 at home to New Zealand; (Magners League): Won 18-16 away to the Scarlets
Previous European Meetings: 2
Sunday, January 13, 2008 – Pool 5 – Clermont Auvergne 26 Munster 19, Stade Marcel Michelin
Sunday, November 18, 2007 – Pool 5 – Munster 36 Clermont Auvergne 13, Thomond Park
Heineken Cup Records:
Clermont Auvergne –
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2002/03: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2001/02: Reached the quarter-finals
1999/00: Reached the quarter-finals
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
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Munster to win by less than 7 points