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Heineken Cup Preview: Munster v Perpignan

Heineken Cup Preview: Munster v Perpignan

Munster are the only province in action on Friday night so all of the focus will be on Thomond Park Stadium as Tony McGahan’s men try to get the better of reigning French champions Perpignan. With just two points separating top from bottom in Pool 1, a win is vital for Munster’s quarter-final qualification chances.

HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 1: Friday, December 11

MUNSTER (1st) v PERPIGNAN (2nd), Thomond Park Stadium, 8pm (live Sky Sports 2)

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Team News: Denis Leamy and David Wallace return to the Munster side for Friday’s Heineken Cup Pool 1 showdown with Perpignan.

The selected Munster pack shows just two changes to the side that started against Benetton Treviso in round two of the Heineken Cup.

The continued absence of Marcus Horan provides a first Heineken Cup start for Springbok prop Wian du Preez, while John Hayes, who missed the Treviso game through suspension, returns on the tighthead side of the scrum at the expense of Tony Buckley.

Jerry Flannery, who was named in the extended squad, misses out because of what the Munster management describe as ‘a slight Achilles problem.’

In the back-line, coach Tony McGahan has opted for a Lifeimi Mafi-Keith Earls midfield combination, while Denis Hurley, after a short but impressive role as a replacement against Ospreys last week, edges out Ian Dowling on the left wing.

Meanwhile, Perpignan have made five changes to the team that secured a 29-3 victory over Montpellier in the French Top 14 Championship last weekend.

Winger Farid Sid returns from injury, with centre David Marty, English prop Perry Freshwater and back row duo Yoann Vivalda and Yannick Parent all coming back into the starting line-up.

Number 8 Henry Tuilagi, out-half Nicolas Laharrague and winger Julien Candelon are notable absentees due to injury, but the Catalans still boast a strong selection – that strength most visible in the centre partnership of Marty and Maxime Mermoz.

MUNSTER: Paul Warwick; Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Lifeimi Mafi, Denis Hurley; Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary; Wian du Preez, Denis Fogarty, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell (capt), Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.

Replacements: Damien Varley, Darragh Hurley, Tony Buckley, Mick O’Driscoll, Donnacha Ryan, Niall Ronan, Peter Stringer, Jean de Villiers.

PERPIGNAN: Jerome Porical; Farid Sid, David Marty, Maxime Mermoz, Christophe Manas; Gavin Hume, Nicolas Durand; Perry Freshwater, Guilhem Guirado, Nicolas Mas (capt), Olivier Olibeau, Robins Tchale Watchou, Yoann Vivalda, Bertrand Guiry, Yannick Parent.

Replacements: Marius Tincu, Jerome Schuster, Kisi Pulu, Charles Geli, David Mele, Jean-Philippe Grandclaude, Philip Burger, Rimas Alvarez Kairelis.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Ashley Rowden, Robin Goodliffe (both England)
Television Match Official: Graham Hughes (England)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 2/9; Draw: 25/1; Perpignan to win: 3/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Paul O’Connell (Munster) – “Our form is probably a bit of a concern. We’d rather be playing great rugby, rather be flying along in the Magners League. I suppose we’ve struggled a little bit. We’ve had injuries.

“I suppose that was our big strength last year in that it didn’t matter who pulled on the jersey – we performed. And that’s something we need to look at and something we need to get right.

“The main thing we always do is try and focus on ourselves. When you get too bogged down and too focused on other teams you end up not playing.

“In that Ulster week it was all about our performance and that’s why we produced the game we did on the day.

“The Ulster game for us was a great game to get going with back home. We were flying high that day.

“We were just concerned about ourselves and it’ll be the same this weekend.

“The main priority will be our own play and how we perform and the intensity we play at. Sure we’ll look at their strengths. And address those strengths. But we have to focus on ourselves first and foremost.”

Nicolas Mas (Perpignan) – “After our faux-pas against Benetton Treviso in Round 1, we compromised our chances to qualify, but luckily a victory against Northampton Saints has helped us stand second in our pool behind Munster so all is not lost.

“We really made things difficult for ourselves and now we have no choice but to win these back-to-back games against Munster.

“It would be a real achievement for us to go and beat Munster but our ambitions are still there and we want to reach the quarter-finals.

“A huge challenge awaits us – especially when we go to face them on their home turf. Thomond Park is like a fortress and a very difficult ground at which to play.

“Munster are a great team, well used to competing in the Heineken Cup and they always turn up on the day as a fully committed team.

“I know that because I have played against them in two previous Heineken Cup tournament, in 2002 and 2006, and they are very difficult to face.

“Their pack is very strong and their three-quarters are fantastic players but, above all, they have an excellent metronome operator in Ronan O’Gara. Make no mistake, we know what to expect and we know we are in for an extremely tough challenge.”

Current Form – Munster – (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; (Heineken Cup): Lost 31-27 away to Northampton Saints; Won 41-10 at home to Benetton Treviso; (Magners League): Lost 12-7 away to Edinburgh; Won 24-10 at home to Ulster; Lost 19-14 away to the Ospreys 

Perpignan – (Top 14 Championship): Won 28-20 at home to Bayonne; Lost 18-12 away to Montpellier; Won 17-15 at home to Toulouse; Won 21-9 at home to Brive; Won 18-14 away to Racing Metro; Lost 17-6 away to Bourgoin; Won 28-9 at home to Montauban; Won 19-3 at home to Clermont Auvergne; Lost 27-12 away to Biarritz Olympique; (Heineken Cup): Lost 9-8 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 29-13 at home to Northampton Saints; (Top 14 Championship): Won 20-14 away to Stade Francais; Won 17-15 at home to Castres Olympique; Won 25-9 at home to Toulon; Lost 24-23 away to Albi; Won 29-3 at home to Montpellier

Previous European Meetings: 5

Saturday, October 10, 1998 – Pool B – Perpignan 41 Munster 24, Stade Gilbert Brutus 
Saturday, October 31, 1998 – Pool B – Munster 13 Perpignan 5, Musgrave Park
Saturday, October 19, 2002 – Pool 2 – Munster 30 Perpignan 21, Thomond Park
Saturday, January 11, 2002 – Pool 2 – Perpignan 23 Munster 8, Stade Aime Giral
Saturday, April 1, 2006 – Quarter-Final – Munster 19 Perpignan 10, Lansdowne Road 

Heineken Cup Records:

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 

Perpignan –
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2007/08: Reached the quarter-finals 
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2005/06: Reached the quarter-finals 
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2002/03: Runners-up
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1998/99: Reached the semi-finals