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Heineken Cup Preview: Munster v Scarlets

Heineken Cup Preview: Munster v Scarlets

Munster face into their second successive top of the table clash in Heineken Cup Pool 1 this weekend, having jumped above the Scarlets following their gritty win in Llanelli last time out.

HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 1: Sunday, December 18

MUNSTER (1st) v SCARLETS (2nd), Thomond Park, 12.45pm (live Sky Sports 2/HD2/Newstalk)

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Team News: Keith Earls is back in the Munster team for Sunday’s rematch with the Scarlets at Thomond Park, as one of three changes to the side that ran out last weekend in Llanelli.

The fit-again Earls comes straight into the side as a replacement for Will Chambers at outside centre, while Denis Leamy starts in place of the injured Peter O’Mahony (jaw) and Donncha O’Callaghan returns in the second row.

O’Callaghan retains the number 4 jersey having come on in Llanelli as a 55th minute replacement for Donncha Ryan, who is listed this weekend among the replacements.

Earls injured a knee in the opening minute of the league derby against Leinster on November 4 and did his first full training spin late last week before coming through two sessions this week with flying colours.

It is not surprising that Leamy will fill the number 6 shirt after an impressive showing in the second half last weekend when he came on for O’Mahony.

Tommy O’Donnell fills the gap on the bench created by Leamy’s promotion and Stephen Archer has been preferred as loosehead prop cover for BJ Botha.

Young scrum half Conor Murray is looking forward to playing in front of a packed Thomond Park, but he is not taking anything for granted.

“Yeah, I love playing there, the atmosphere on days like this is brilliant. But as Tony (McGahan) said, this is just the second half,” he said.

“And the result will be decided by what happens between the touchlines. It’s going to be every bit as close and tense as it was last weekend.”

Meanwhile, Scarlets boss Nigel Davies has opted to put both his frontline out-halves on the pitch with Rhys Priestland moving to full-back and experienced European campaigner Stephen Jones starting in the number 10 jersey opposite Ronan O’Gara.

Iestyn Thomas is not available for selection due to illness, winger George North has failed to fully recover from his dead leg and did not pass a late fitness test, while Aaron Shingler has been ruled out with a toe sprain.

Lock Lou Reed will be making his 100th appearance in a Scarlets shirt, and it will be regional cap number 50 for both Scottish winger Sean Lamont and tighthead prop Rhys Thomas.

Scarlets vice-captain Gareth Maule, who is listed among the replacements, could also chalk up the half century if he is introduced off the bench.

MUNSTER: Denis Hurley; Johne Murphy, Keith Earls, Lifeimi Mafi, Simon Zebo; Ronan O’Gara, Conor Murray; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell (capt), Denis Leamy, Niall Ronan, James Coughlan.

Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Marcus Horan, Stephen Archer, Donnacha Ryan, Tommy O’Donnell, Tomas O’Leary, Ian Keatley, Danny Barnes.

SCARLETS: Rhys Priestland; Liam Williams, Scott Williams, Jon Davies, Sean Lamont; Stephen Jones, Gareth Davies; Rhodri Jones, Matthew Rees (capt), Rhys Thomas, Lou Reed, Damian Welch, Rob McCusker, Johnathan Edwards, Ben Morgan.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Phil John, Deacon Manu, Sione Timani, Kieran Murphy, Tavis Knoyle, Gareth Maule, Viliame Iongi.

Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Assistant Referees: JP Doyle, Paul Dix (both England)
Television Match Official: Geoff Warren (England)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/5; Draw: 22/1; Scarlets to win: 16/5

Pre-Match Quotes: Tony McGahan (Munster) – “I don’t have any good feelings in Heineken Cup weeks, to be honest. Where we are, where the pool is and the other sides that are in it, we are as fearful now as we were going into round 1 with Northampton, that’s where it’s at.

“We know things can get tipped either way and we could undo all the good work and all the fight and all the work we’ve contributed over the last three games. We know this is just where it’s at for this weekend.

“I don’t know if we have the ability to be looking too far ahead and I don’t think we should be. There is a lot of fear for this game and we certainly recognise what Scarlets can do and what they can bring.

“We know they would like to be better than they were last Saturday, with their own execution. We’re looking for our best performance this weekend and I believe we probably need it in order to get a result.”

Nigel Davies (Scarlets) – “It’s quite an important moment for these players on Sunday, they’ve developed, there’s a huge amount of potential in them but they’re not Scarlets ‘youngsters’ any longer. They have to be able to produce performances in the very top games in Europe – and this is one.

“It’s time to stand up and be counted and take that step now; we can either be a great team that just falls short in Europe or one that is able to win the top European encounters with the talent we have.

“I believe in this team and it has a lot more to show, but individually now’s the time to step it up and they know that. We can either accept where we are or be hard on ourselves.

“We’ve had a very focused and honest week and then team know that they won’t get a better opportunity to make a statement as a group or as individuals, to define what it is to be a Scarlets player and team and to demonstrate their ability and mental and physical strength collectively.”

Current Form – Scarlets – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 32-9 at home to Aironi Rugby; Lost 13-11 away to Connacht; Lost 35-12 away to Munster; Lost 15-10 at home to Leinster; Lost 20-10 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 33-17 at home to Edinburgh; Won 24-17 at home to Ulster; Drew 9-9 away to the Ospreys; (Heineken Cup): Won 31-23 at home to Castres Olympique; Won 28-23 away to Northampton Saints; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 22-12 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 24-17 away to Ulster; (Heineken Cup): Lost 17-14 at home to Munster

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; (Heineken Cup): Won 23-21 at home to Northampton Saints; Won 27-24 away to Castres Olympique; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 34-17 at home to Edinburgh; Lost 19-13 away to the Ospreys; (Heineken Cup): Won 17-14 away to the Scarlets

Top Scorers – 2011/12 Heineken Cup: Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 37; Tries: Doug Howlett 2; Scarlets – Points: Rhys Priestland 22; Tries: Aaron Shingler 2

Previous European Meetings: 4

Saturday, December 10, 2011 – Pool 1 – Scarlets 14 Munster 17, Parc y Scarlets
Sunday, December 16, 2007 – Pool 5 – Munster 22 Scarlets 13, Thomond Park
Saturday, December 8, 2007 – Pool 5 – Scarlets 16 Munster 29, Stradey Park
Friday, March 30, 2007 – Quarter-final – Scarlets 24 Munster 15, Stradey Park

Heineken Cup Records:

Munster –
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2009/10: Reached the semi-finals
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

Scarlets –
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2006/07: Reached the semi-finals
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2003/04: Reached the quarter-finals
2002/03: Reached the quarter-finals
2001/02: Reached the semi-finals
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
1999/00: Reached the semi-finals
1998/99: Reached the quarter-finals
1997/98: Reached the quarter-final play-off
1996/97: Reached the quarter-finals