Munster’s failure to reach the quarter-finals of last season’s Heineken Cup will be fresh in many minds when they get their 2011/12 campaign underway at home to Northampton Saints.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 1: Saturday, November 12
MUNSTER v NORTHAMPTON SAINTS, Thomond Park, 6pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1/Sky 3D)
Team News: Former Ireland Under-20 captain Peter O’Mahony has been named in the starting line-up for Munster’s opening pool match of the Heineken Cup against Northampton Saints at Thomond Park on Saturday.
Munster Academy graduates Danny Barnes, Conor Murray and O’Mahony will make their first tournament starts against Northampton, who lost last May’s final to Leinster.
And continuing the successful development of young players, Cork Constitution prop John Ryan, who featured in their Ulster Bank League game last weekend against Clontarf, has been named on the Munster replacements bench.
The 23-year-old comes onto the bench in place of the injured Marcus Horan who failed a late fitness test having picked up an ankle injury in training this week.
The province’s selected side shows five changes to the one that started against Leinster last time out, two in the back-line and three up front.
Denis Hurley, who played for UCC last weekend, comes onto the left wing in place of the injured Keith Earls (knee).
Barnes, an early replacement for Earls against Leinster, retains the number 13 jersey ahead of Heineken Cup newcomer Will Chambers who has been kept in reserve.
It is in the pack that the big calls have been made with Donncha O’Callaghan and Denis Leamy both relegated to the bench in favour of O’Mahony and James Coughlan.
O’Callaghan gives way to fellow Ireland Rugby World Cup squad member Donnacha Ryan, who moves up from the blindside flank he occupied against Leinster to partner captain Paul O’Connell in the second row.
Meanwhile, Northampton Saints travel over to Limerick with a team showing two changes to the one that started last weekend’s 24-13 Aviva Premiership win at London Wasps.
Dubliner James Downey, who previously had a trial with Munster, has been recalled at inside centre to partner Jon Clarke.
England flanker Tom Wood also takes over from Phil Dowson at openside flanker. The back row combination includes the Ireland-capped Roger Wilson at number 8.
Russian international Vasily Artemyev, who scored a try against Ireland at the recent Rugby World Cup, will start on the left wing for Northampton. He has scored six tries in his first four outings for the club.
MUNSTER: Johne Murphy; Doug Howlett, Danny Barnes, Lifeimi Mafi, Denis Hurley; Ronan O’Gara, Conor Murray; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, BJ Botha, Donnacha Ryan, Paul O’Connell (capt), Peter O’Mahony, Niall Ronan, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Denis Fogarty, John Ryan, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Denis Leamy, Tomas O’Leary, Ian Keatley, Will Chambers.
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: Ben Foden; Chris Ashton, Jon Clarke, James Downey, Vasily Artemyev; Ryan Lamb, Lee Dickson; Soane Tonga’uiha, Dylan Hartley (capt), Brian Mujati, Courtney Lawes, Mark Sorenson, Calum Clark, Tom Wood, Roger Wilson.
Replacements: Mike Haywood, Alex Waller, Paul Doran Jones, Samu Manoa, Phil Dowson, Martin Roberts, Stephen Myler, George Pisi.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 8/15; Draw: 20/1; Northampton Saints to win: 13/8
Pre-Match Quotes: Donnacha Ryan (Munster) – “Over the years I’d been longing to play second row but obviously with the calibre of player that was there I had to play back row.
“So, yeah I’d like to nail down a second row place but basically I’d like to play rugby so at the end of the day I’ll play where I’m put really.
“It’s a really serious challenge, a huge night and one when we’ll really look to have the crowd behind us because we’ll need them.
“Northampton had a great run last year. Topped their pool, got to the final. Maybe just ran out of steam in the second half (against Leinster).
“(Courtney) Lawes is a key player. A really big guy, he’s very powerful, very fast. We saw his quality in the World Cup and we’ll have to be on our toes there. Then there’s Dylan Hartley as well, a key member of their side, a leader for them.
“First of all we have to play for 80 minutes, last week (against Leinster) our discipline was poor as well and we were a bit sporadic in our performance.
“So we’re really going to have to concentrate on ourselves, on our own discipline and basically be as relentless as possible for 80 minutes.
“There’s probably always pressure playing with Munster and it” pressure we put on ourselves but that’s the challenge we love rising to.
“Playing at Thomond Park is going to give us a real boost. Last year was a very hurtful year for us in our performance in the Heineken Cup, so this time around we’ll take every game as it comes. Home or away we’re just set on going out there and doing our best.”
Jim Mallinder (Northampton Saints) – “There has been a step up in training this week and we’ve needed it. The Heineken Cup games are of a higher intensity than the league and we’ve got to make sure that we play at that intensity when we go across to Munster this weekend.
“Munster will go into the game knowing that they can beat anybody, especially at Thomond Park, which is a fantastic arena with a terrific atmosphere.
“Winning your home games is crucial in the Heineken Cup and Munster will be under pressure to get a result. But we’re putting ourselves under the same pressure and we want the win as well.
“We are going into the game in good spirits after our recent run of results. Our team has a bit more experience than it has in the past and hopefully we will be able to put the lessons of the past into practice on Saturday evening.”
Current Form – Munster – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 20-12 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 23-12 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 35-12 at home to the Scarlets; Won 18-13 away to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 29-14 away to Edinburgh; Lost 17-13 at home to the Ospreys; Won 18-6 at home to Aironi Rugby; Lost 24-19 away to Leinster
Northampton Saints – (Aviva Premiership): Won 26-24 at home to Gloucester; Lost 26-13 away to Harlequins; Lost 14-13 at home to London Irish; Lost 29-21 away to Sale Sharks; Lost 12-3 away to Worcester Warriors; Won 33-3 at home to Exeter Chiefs; (LV= Cup): Won 36-6 at home to Saracens; Won 32-22 away to the Ospreys; (Aviva Premiership): Won 44-15 at home to Newcastle Falcons; Won 24-13 away to London Wasps
Previous European Meetings: 4
Saturday, April 10, 2010 – Quarter-final – Munster 33 Northampton Saints 19, Thomond Park
Friday, January 22, 2010 – Pool 1 – Munster 12 Northampton Saints 9, Thomond Park
Saturday, October 10, 2009 – Pool 1 – Northampton Saints 31 Munster 27, Franklin’s Gardens
Saturday, May 27, 2000 – Final – Northampton Saints 9 Munster 8, Twickenham
Heineken Cup Records:
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2009/10: Reached the semi-finals
2008/09: Reached the semi-finals
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Reached the semi-finals
2002/03: Reached the semi-finals
2000/01: Reached the semi-finals
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
Northampton Saints –
2009/10: Reached the quarter-finals
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