All eyes will be on Thomond Park Stadium on Saturday afternoon as defending Heineken Cup champions Munster look to gain revenge on Clermont Auvergne for last weekend’s defeat and boost their quarter-final qualification hopes in the process.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 1: Saturday, December 13
MUNSTER v CLERMONT AUVERGNE, Thomond Park Stadium, 3.30pm (live Sky Sports 2)
Team News: The Munster team for Saturday’s Heineken Cup return clash with Clermont Auvergne shows just one change to the side that started last weekend’s 25-19 defeat in France.
That one change comes in the front row where the fit-again Jerry Flannery returns at hooker in place of Frankie Sheahan.
Flannery injured a knee in the GUINNESS Series match against Argentina but has staged a remarkable recovery to regain his place in the starting side.
Munster completed their match preparations at the University of Limerick on Wednesday and while Flannery took a full part, Barry Murphy sat out the afternoon session because of a slight back problem.
But Murphy’s absence was purely precautionary and the UL Bohemians clubman is fit and and ready to take his place alongside Lifeimi Mafi in the Munster midfield.
Munster had their Captain’s run session on Friday night behind closed doors at Thomond Park, which is expected to be packed to capacity for the crunch Pool 1 tie.
MUNSTER: Keith Earls; Doug Howlett, Barry Murphy, Lifeimi Mafi, Ian Dowling; Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, 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.
CLERMONT AUVERGNE: Anthony Floch; Julien Malzieu, Marius Joubert, Benoit Baby, Napolioni Vonowale Nalaga; Brock James, Pierre Mignoni; Laurent Emmanuelli, Benoit Cabello, Jacobus Roux, Jamie Cudmore, Thibaut Privat, Julien Bonnaire, Alexandre Audebert, Elvis Vermeulen.
Replacements: Mario Ledesma, Davit Zirakashvili, Christophe Samson, Emmanuel Etien, John Senio, Seremaia Bai, Grant Esterhuizen.
Referee: Chris White (England)
Touch Judges: Roy Maybank, Kevin Stewart (both England)
Television Match Official: Graham Hughes (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/6; Draw: 25/1; Clermont Auvergne to win: 7/2
Pre-Match Quotes: Paul O’Connell (Munster) – “We were looking for a win last week in Clermont and were of course disappointed not to get it but we know that the losing bonus point could make all the difference at the end of the pool stages.
“Having said that, if we don’t go and beat them this weekend in the return fixture then that losing bonus point will count for nothing.
“There were a few issues in the scrum (last week) and we were disappointed with the number of penalties we conceded.
“We pride ourselves on our discipline which we think is one of the strongest parts of our game.
“We’ve also taken some good points from the match. We had a strong first half and did some things very well, at times we defended exactly how we wanted to.
“Rog (Ronan O’Gara) was solid as a rock in terms of his kicking. The pressure penalty at the end to give us the losing bonus point was massively important and could make the difference in a few weeks’ time.
“We know that Clermont’s away form has not been great but obviously we can’t rely on that.
“Every game in the pool is vitally important and we are only halfway through. And this pool is wide open.
“Sale did well to get a bonus point against Montauban last Friday night so it’s going to be very tough for us.
“We’re still right in the mix so it’s in our hands – we just need to get it right this weekend.”
Heineken Cup Top Scorers – Current Season: Munster: Tries: Barry Murphy, Paul Warwick, David Wallace, Marcus Horan 1 each; Points: Ronan O’Gara 39; Clermont Auvergne: Tries: Napolioni Vonowale Nalaga 2; Points: Brock James 49
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; (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; (Heineken Cup): Lost 25-19 away to Clermont Auvergne
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; (Heineken Cup): Won 25-19 at home to Munster
Previous European Meetings: 3
Sunday, December 7, 2008 – Pool 1 – Clermont Auvergne 25 Munster 19, Stade Marcel Michelin
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:
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
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
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Munster to win by more than 7 points