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Amlin Challenge Cup Semi-Final Preview: Munster v Harlequins

Amlin Challenge Cup Semi-Final Preview: Munster v Harlequins

Stade Francais are the first team through to this season’s Amlin Challenge Cup final. Will it be Munster or former champions Harlequins who join them in the decider? All will be revealed at Thomond Park on Saturday afternoon.


MUNSTER v HARLEQUINS, Thomond Park, 1pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1/highlights RTE 2)

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Team News: Head coach Tony McGahan has made one change in personnel to the Munster team for Saturday’s Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final against Harlequins at Thomond Park.

That sole change comes in the back-line where Paul Warwick partners Lifeimi Mafi in the centre, with Mafi’s centre colleague from the win over Brive, Sam Tuitupou, named on a bench that includes Paul O’Connell.

O’Connell was not named in the extended squad announced on Wednesday. The Munster management waited to see how the province’s regular captain came through what was only his second full contact session on Thursday since picking up the ankle injury against Leinster a month ago.

As it transpired, O’Connell came through training showing no ill-effects and has been included on a particularly strong looking bench alongside Marcus Horan, John Hayes and Peter Stringer, who between them have over 600 Munster caps.

Commenting on the O’Connell decision, McGahan said: “We thought it prudent to omit Paul from the original squad until we saw how he came through what was only his second serious workout (yesterday) since sustaining the injury.

“He reported no ill-effects today so we’re delighted to be able to name him in the matchday squad.”

When he sustained the injury in the April 2 encounter, it was expected that his reappearance would likely be in the latter stages of the Magners League campaign and McGahan was quick to heap praise on his backroom team and the player himself.

“I think the Munster medical and fitness staff deserve huge credit for having him back in the matchday squad at this stage,” he explained.

“But it also demonstrates Paul’s professionalism, dedication to his sport and commitment to Munster.”

Meanwhile, Harlequins will field an unchanged team following on from their 38-3 Aviva Premiership victory over Leeds Carnegie at Headingley last Sunday.

‘Quins director of rugby Conor O’Shea said: “It will be a fabulous experience. A side that contains the likes of Nick Easter, Danny Care and Nick Evans doesn’t travel anywhere just to make up the numbers.

“I know that Munster will deliver a big performance, as they always do at Thomond Park, but that’s the exciting thing for us.

“It gives this team an opportunity to see where they stand. We’re at the start of an exciting journey with a young team and this game against Munster is a chance to test ourselves against undoubtedly one of the strongest sides in Europe.”

The out-half duel between New Zealander Evans and Munster’s stand-in captain Ronan O’Gara is sure to be a key battle, and the ‘Quins front row of Joe Marler, Joe Gray and James Johnston will be hoping to put pressure on the hosts at scrum time.

Scrum half Care, centre Jordan Turner-Hall and full-back Mike Brown were among the try scorers in Harlequins’ defeat of Leeds. John Kingston’s side are currently seventh in the Premiership standings.

They beat London Wasps at the quarter-final stage in the Amlin Challenge, with Evans kicking five penalties, two conversions and a drop goal in the 32-22 triumph at the Twickenham Stoop.

MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Doug Howlett, Lifeimi Mafi, Paul Warwick, Keith Earls; Ronan O’Gara (capt), Conor Murray; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, Tony Buckley, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll, Denis Leamy, David Wallace, James Coughlan.

Replacements: Mike Sherry, Marcus Horan, John Hayes, Paul O’Connell, Donnacha Ryan, Peter Stringer, Sam Tuitupou, Johne Murphy.

HARLEQUINS: Mike Brown; Gonzalo Camacho, George Lowe, Jordan Turner-Hall, Ugo Monye; Nick Evans, Danny Care; Joe Marler, Joe Gray, James Johnston, Ollie Kohn, George Robson, Maurie Fa’asavalu, Chris Robshaw (capt), Nick Easter.

Replacements: Matt Cairns, Ceri Jones, Mark Lambert, Tomas Vallejos, Will Skinner, Dave Moore, Rory Clegg, Ross Chisholm.

Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Christophe Berdos, Jerome Garces (both France)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/6; Draw: 22/1; Harlequins to win: 9/2

Pre-Match Quotes: David Wallace (Munster) – “I think when Conor (Murray) has got his chances, he’s played really well. He’s looked really comfortable on the ball.

“He looks like he’s been there for 10 years. He has got no fear of bossing a pack that has far more experience than he has.

“He made at least one try-saving tackle against the Ospreys last week, and his workrate was excellent. He hasn’t played a lot of games for us, but in the games he has, he’s been pure quality.

“He has his own game and his own style. He’s a big guy who can make breaks and get through tackles.

“We did our mourning back in January with the Heineken Cup, and I think we’ve shown that we’ve got over that hump and we’re back to winning ways.

“This is a new competition now and we really want to go on now and try and win it. Any Heineken Cup hangover is definitely gone and this is a chance of European silverware and it’s something that we have to be fully focused on.”

Chris Robshaw (Harlequins) – “We’ve had to ask ourselves why exactly haven’t we been winning away from home. Whether it’s down to our preparation or if it’s a mental thing, I’m not sure.

“It’s true that you have to be tougher mentally when you’re away from home, and maybe we just haven’t been.

“But we’ll have to be at Thomond Park on Saturday afternoon because Munster rarely lose there. They are an incredible side.

“We’ll need to raise our game to beat them. If we’re not properly prepared, both physically and mentally, then we haven’t got much of a chance.”

Recent Form – Munster – (Magners League): Won 16-15 away to the Cardiff Blues; Won 24-23 at home to Leinster; (Amlin Challenge Cup): Won 42-37 away to Brive; (Magners League): Won 13-6 away to the Scarlets; Won 22-20 away to the Ospreys

Harlequins – (Aviva Premiership): Won 53-15 at home to Gloucester; Lost 17-13 at home to Leicester Tigers; (Amlin Challenge Cup): Won 32-22 at home to London Wasps; (Aviva Premiership): Lost 19-15 away to Bath; Won 38-3 away to Leeds Carnegie

Top Scorers – 2010/11 Amlin Challenge Cup/Heineken Cup: Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 75; Tries: Doug Howlett 5; Harlequins – Points: Nick Evans 78; Tries: Sam Smith 4

Previous Meetings: 6

Saturday, January 15, 2005 – Pool 4 – Harlequins 10 Munster 18, Twickenham
Saturday, October 23, 2004 – Pool 4 – Munster 15 Harlequins 9, Thomond Park
Saturday, January 5, 2002 – Pool 4 – Munster 51 Harlequins 17, Thomond Park
Saturday, October 6, 2001 – Pool 4 – Harlequins 8 Munster 24, Twickenham Stoop
Sunday, October 12, 1997 – Pool D – Munster 23 Harlequins 16, Thomond Park
Sunday, September 7, 1997 – Pool D – Harlequins 48 Munster 40, Twickenham Stoop

Amlin Challenge Cup Records:

Munster –
2010/11 is their first appearance in the tournament

Harlequins –
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2003/04: Champions
2002/03: Reached Round 2
2000/01: Champions