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Heineken Cup Preview: Northampton Saints v Munster

Heineken Cup Preview: Northampton Saints v Munster

Northampton Saints could be in for something of a backlash from Munster after their disappointing 30-0 defeat to Leinster in the Magners League last weekend. Whatever happens at Franklin’s Gardens this evening, there will be plenty of Irish interest as James Downey, Neil Best and Roger Wilson have been included in the Saints side.

HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 1: Saturday, October 10

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS v MUNSTER, Franklin’s Gardens, 6pm (live Sky Sports Xtra)

Team News: Donncha O’Callaghan will make his 63rd Heineken Cup appearance and win his 150th competitive Munster cap when the province take the pitch against Northampton Saints in Saturday’s Heineken Cup Pool 1 clash.

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Munster’s big guns are back for their European opener, with team captain Paul O’Connell, David Wallace, Alan Quinlan, Jerry Flannery and Paul Warwick all returning to the starting line-up.

Coming in for the suspended John Hayes at tighthead prop is Tony Buckley, while South African centre Jean de Villiers will make his Heineken Cup debut, partnering Lifeimi Mafi in midfield.

Looking forward to his 150th competitive cap for Munster, second row O’Callaghan is eager to get the province back in contention for European silverware.

“This competition is special. It’s something that’s very close to Munster supporters and we know that,” he said.

“Maybe it’s because at the start off we didn’t do so well and people thought, ‘sure God love them’. Then we won a few games, got to a final and just wouldn’t let go.

“And our supporters bought into it. They’re brilliant. and that’s why we feel we left them down last year. And last weekend (against Leinster) as well.”

He added: “Northampton are a smashing side. Not unlike us. A proud provincial side. Great support. Great tradition. A good footballing side. And they don’t lose too often at Franklin’s Gardens.

“We’re coming off a disappointing result last weekend. We know what we have to do. We’ve worked hard this week and hopefully we’ll give a good account of ourselves.”

Meanwhile, after a two year break, Northampton return to the Heineken Cup with a home game against two-time champions Munster. They won the European Challenge Cup last season, beating Connacht along the way.

Franklin’s Gardens has been sold out for weeks, and Irishmen James Downey, Neil Best and Roger Wilson will be certainly keen to put one over on the 2008 champions.

The match will mark Chris Ashton’s 50th appearance in the Saints first team.

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: Ben Foden; Chris Ashton, Jon Clarke, James Downey, Bruce Reihana; Shane Geraghty, Lee Dickson; Soane Tonga’uiha, Dylan Hartley (capt), Santiago Bonorino, Courtney Lawes, Juandre Kruger, Phil Dowson, Neil Best, Roger Wilson.

Replacements: Brett Sharman, Regardt Dreyer, Brian Mujati, Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe, Mark Easter, Alan Dickens, Stephen Myler, Chris Mayor.

MUNSTER: Paul Warwick; Doug Howlett, Lifeimi Mafi, Jean de Villiers, Keith Earls; Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, Tony Buckley, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell (capt), Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.

Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Julien Brugnaut, Darragh Hurley, Mick O’Driscoll, Niall Ronan, Donnacha Ryan, Peter Stringer, Ian Dowling.

Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)
Assistant Referees: Eric Gauzins, Jean-Luc Rebollal (both France)
Television Match Official: Daniel Dartigeas (France)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Northampton Saints to win: Evens; Draw: 18/1; Munster to win: 4/5

Pre-Match Quotes: Tomas O’Leary (Munster) – “I don’t think it matters how much we win it by or what style we win it in. Our only goal is to go over there and win. We just have to be confident going into the game.

“The buzz has been good at training and we’re not going to have the heads down dwelling on what happened last week against Leinster.

“Northampton are a very formidable side. Their home record is great. They only lost one game at Franklin’s Gardens last year in the league.

“They have a good pack, very good half-backs and big runners coming in off the wings hitting the line at pace.

“Obviously, (Shane) Geraghty at 10 will be a key player as will Lee Dickson at nine and the majority of the play will go through them.

“Their captain (Dylan) Hartley at two is another key man so we can’t afford to concentrate on any one player and have to be aware of all their threats.

“When they get their game going, they are impressive so we have to prevent them from getting quick, go-forward ball.

“I feel good now that I have a few matches under my belt. While I know I’m coming off the back of a major injury, it doesn’t enter my thinking once I get out on the pitch.

“It’s a case of getting the injury out of my mind, especially when I’m playing. I’m just trying to get my sharpness back and the last few games have been very good in that respect.

“I’m well over the disappointment of missing the Lions trip. With so much going on here, there’s a lot else to occupy your mind.”

Jim Mallinder (Northampton Saints) – “We are excited by being in the Heineken Cup. It is a superb competition in which you test yourselves against the top clubs in Europe, and they don’t come much bigger than Munster.

“They have a tradition of success in the tournament and are bringing a squad full of international and experienced players.

“But we aren’t daunted by playing them. We have earned our place in the Heineken Cup and believe we can compete. If we are to progress in Europe we have to win our home games, beginning on Saturday evening.

“Our supporters have been looking forward to this match for a long time. As we found out last season, Franklin’s Gardens is a special place on big European occasions, and especially under lights. It should be a memorable occasion.

“But we haven’t changed our approach, and know that we will have to concentrate and work hard from the first whistle until the last if we are to get a positive result.”

Current Form – Northampton Saints – (Guinness Premiership): Won 20-17 at home to Worcester Warriors; Lost 19-16 away to Saracens; Won 27-14 away to Gloucester; Won 30-10 at home to Leeds Carnegie; Lost 20-15 away to London Wasps

Munnster – (Magners League): Lost 22-9 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 24-13 at home to Cardiff Blues; Won 22-20 away to the Scarlets; Won 27-3 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 30-0 away to Leinster

Previous European Meetings: 1

Saturday, May 27, 2000 – Heineken Cup final – Northampton Saints 9 Munster 8, Twickenham

Heineken Cup Records:

Northampton Saints –
2006/07: Reached the semi-finals
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2002/03: Reached the quarter-finals
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1999/00: Champions

Munster –
2008/09: Reached the semi-finals
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