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Heineken Cup Preview: Munster v Sale Sharks

Heineken Cup Preview: Munster v Sale Sharks

With a number of players back from injury, Munster will be close to full strength for the visit of Sale Sharks to Thomond Park Stadium. Tony McGahan’s men currently top Pool 1 on 13 points, but Sale are only two points behind them going into the final two rounds of pool matches.

HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 1: Friday, January 16 

MUNSTER v SALE SHARKS, Thomond Park Stadium, 8pm (live Sky Sports 1)

Team News: Munster’s team for their crucial Heineken Cup Pool 1 clash with Sale Sharks at Thomond Park Stadium on Friday shows just one change to the side which defeated Sale back in October.

That one change comes in the back row where a fit-again Denis Leamy replaces John O’Sullivan and there is also just one change on the replacements bench from that October game with Niall Ronan in for Justin Melck who has returned to his native South Africa.

The Munster side announced this morning includes both Ronan O’Gara and Paul Warwick.

O’Gara missed Munster’s Magners League trip to the Ospreys last weekend with a slight hamstring injury, while Warwick was injured during that game sparking worries over the out-half berth.

But both players came through Wednesday’s rain-lashed Musgrave Park training session with Warwick preferred at full-back to the benched Denis Hurley.

Speaking at the squad announcement in the Heineken Brewery, second row Donncha O’Callaghan outlined the enormity of the task Munster face on Friday.

“Sale are a quality side, they really are. I watched them against London Irish and they were very impressive,” he said.

“They have quality players right across the field, they’re a big abrasive team, well able to put themselves about but at the same time they can play good rugby when they decide to.

“The group is still wide open. Any one of three can still win it – I wouldn’t rule Clermont Auvergne out although they have to travel to Sale. So this is a cup final for both of us, simple as that.”

Meanwhile, Sale Sharks have confirmed their side to take on Munster. They have made one change to the team that started last weekend’s 14-8 win over Guinness Premiership leaders London Irish.

Richard Wigglesworth and Dwayne Peel have been rotated at scrum half with Richard starting. On the replacements bench, Carl Fearns is preferred to Luke Abraham.

MUNSTER: Paul Warwick; Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, 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, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.

Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Federico Pucciariello, Donnacha Ryan, Niall Ronan, Peter Stringer, Barry Murphy, Denis Hurley.

SALE SHARKS: Mark Cueto; Chris Bell, Andy Tuilagi, Luke McAlister, David Doherty; Charlie Hodgson, Richard Wigglesworth; Lionel Faure, Marc Jones, Eifion Roberts, Sebastien Chabal, Dean Schofield, Chris Jones, Neil Briggs, JM Fernandez Lobbe (capt).

Replacements: Stuart Turner, Andrew Sheridan, Brent Cockbain, Carl Fearns, Dwayne Peel, Rudi Keil, Mathew Tait.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Touch Judges: Nigel Whitehouse, Hugh Watkins (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Derek Bevan (Wales)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/3; Draw: 25/1; Sale Sharks to win: 9/4

Pre-Match Quotes: Paul O’Connell (Munster) – “It was always a great way to take teams on, especially in the (weather) conditions that we played in, in Limerick and in Cork.

“It’s gone now…and it has affected us a little bit. You need to figure out new ways to play and that doesn’t happen overnight.

“We’d prefer to be able to maul, it’s a good strength of ours, it’s something we’d like to do a lot more of, but you just can’t do it with the new rules, it’s a lot more difficult.

“I’d rather there was still a maul in the game and maybe they’ll address that. I’d love if it returned, but it’s nothing worth worrying about now.

“I think the results have shown that we haven’t made it (the redeveloped stadium) a fortress, the players haven’t made it the fortress it once was.

“I look back at the guys I grew up watching and it was always about the guys who took the field that made the place. It was always first and foremost the players’ job to make it what it was and maybe we haven’t had that in the last few months.

“It’s the biggest game of the year for us. If the supporters don’t bring their ‘A’ game and if we don’t bring our ‘A’ game, we could be out of the competition.”

Philippe Saint Andre (Sale Sharks) – “Quite simply, we need to win both our remaining games to stand a chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals. As things stand any one of the four teams in our group can still qualify.

“We always knew it was winner-takes-all in Pool 1 of the Heineken Cup and that no team would qualify as a runner-up in this group.

“We have had a good run of late but this is a huge test for us, against the holders on their home ground. We have nearly 3000 of our fans making the journey with us and I am sure they will give the players great support.”

Heineken Cup Top Scorers – Current Season: Munster: Tries: David Wallace, Marcus Horan 2 each; Points: Ronan O’Gara 47; Sale Sharks: Tries: Juan Fernandez Lobbe 2; Points: Luke McAlister 28 

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; Won 23-13 at home to Clermont Auvergne; (Magners League): Lost 12-6 away to Connacht; Lost 37-11 at home to Ulster; Won 25-21 away to Ospreys

Sale Sharks – (Guinness Premiership): Won 14-9 away to Newcastle Falcons; Won 18-15 at home to Saracens; Won 9-6 away to Bristol; Won 23-9 at home to Gloucester; Lost 28-6 away to London Irish; (EDF Energy Cup): Lost 18-17 at home to the Cardiff Blues; (Heineken Cup): Won 32-15 away to Clermont Auvergne; Lost 24-18 at home to Munster; (EDF Energy Cup): Lost 24-21 at home to Bath; Lost 30-20 away to Leicester Tigers; (Guinness Premiership): Lost 17-9 at home to Worcester Warriors; Won 13-12 away to London Wasps; Won 27-13 at home to Leicester Tigers; (Heineken Cup): Won 36-6 at home to Montauban; Lost 16-12 away to Montauban; (Guinness Premiership): Lost 24-20 away to Bath; Won 31-3 at home to London Wasps; Won 14-8 at home to London Irish

Previous European Meetings: 3

Sunday, October 19, 2008 – Pool 1 – Sale Sharks 16 Munster 24, Edgeley Park 
Saturday, January 21, 2006 – Pool 1 – Munster 31 Sale Sharks 9, Thomond Park 
Friday, October 21, 2005 – Pool 1 – Sale Sharks 27 Munster 13, Edgeley Park 

Heineken Cup Records:

Munster –
2007/08: Champions
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2005/06: Champions
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Reached the semi-finals
2002/03: Reached the semi-finals
2001/02: Runners-up
2000/01: Reached the semi-finals
1999/00: Runners-up
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 

Sale Sharks –
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2005/06: Reached the quarter-finals 
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2002/03: Failed to qualify from Pool 3

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Munster to win by less than 7 points

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