For the first time this season, an unchanged Munster starting XV has been named for Sunday’s must-win Champions Cup final round clash with Castres Olympique at Thomond Park (kick-off 1pm).
Following last weekend’s 34-30 defeat to Racing 92 in Paris, Peter O’Mahony has – as expected – recovered from an ankle knock to captain the side. Hooker Niall Scannell returns from the rib injury he suffered against Ulster on New Year’s Day to feature among the replacements.
The all-Ireland international back-line remains intact once again with Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway and Keith Earls, who scored a superb try from outside the 22 against Racing, forming the back-three. Rory Scannell partners Chris Farrell in midfield, while Ian Keatley and Conor Murray continue as the starting half-backs.
The front row is made up of Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall and Stephen Archer with the almost ever-present Billy Holland partnered by Jean Kleyn, the scorer of Munster’s opening try in Paris, in the second row. The pack is completed by a back row of skipper O’Mahony, Chris Cloete and CJ Stander.
Niall Scannell, James Cronin and John Ryan make up the front row replacements, Darren O’Shea and Jack O’Donoghue complete the forward reserves, and Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan and Alex Wootton provide the back-line cover.
A returning to winning ways against in-form Castres in Limerick would see Munster advance to the Champions Cup knockout stages for a record 17th time. Scrum half Murray said: “We’ve been here a couple of times (needing to win the final pool game) , haven’t we? I think for us as a group, this is our own team. We know we are in control of everything, it’s a good place to be.
“You are coming back home to Thomond, it’s going to be a massive crowd, a European game, and you are fully in control of your own destiny. That’s exactly where we would have wanted to be at the start of the year. It’s a big week. We played well last week so we are going to remain positive, and drive it on this week, and hopefully it leads to a performance and we lock away a quarter-final.”
Munster v Castres Olympique tickets are available online here, from the Munster Rugby Ticket Offices at Thomond Park and Irish Independent Park or by calling 061 421103.
MUNSTER (v Castres Olympique): Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland, Peter O’Mahony (capt), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Niall Scannell, James Cronin, John Ryan, Darren O’Shea, Jack O’Donoghue, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Alex Wootton.