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Heineken Cup Preview: Northampton Saints v Munster

Heineken Cup Preview: Northampton Saints v Munster

There is a feeling of unfinished business hovering over the Munster squad as they aim to beat Northampton Saints and bring their Heineken Cup quarter-final fixture home to their Thomond Park fortress.

HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 1: Saturday, January 21

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS (2nd) v MUNSTER (1st), stadium:mk, 6pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1/RTÉ Radio 1)

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Team News: Munster head coach Tony McGahan has made just one change in personnel for Saturday’s crunch Heineken Cup round 6 clash with Northampton Saints at stadium:mk.

A season-ending injury to Niall Ronan has forced a reshuffle in the pack where Donncha O’Callaghan, Ronan’s replacement after 14 minutes against Castres Olympique, will partner captain Paul O’Connell in the second row.

Donnacha Ryan moves from lock to blindside flanker and Peter O’Mahony, who wore the number 6 jersey against Castres, takes over on the openside from Ronan.

Otherwise it is a case of as you were in the starting line-up, but on the replacements bench there is a first time inclusion in a Heineken Cup matchday squad for former Ireland Under-20 international David O’Callaghan.

The ever reliable Mick O’Driscoll, with 196 Munster caps under his belt, makes his first appearance of the Heineken Cup campaign on the bench.

Meanwhile, Northampton Saints have made changes to their back-line as they look to gain revenge on Munster for their narrow defeat at Thomond Park earlier in the season.

James Downey, Jamie Elliott, Ryan Lamb and Lee Dickson have all been drafted into the Saints side at inside centre, right wing, out-half and scrum half respectively.

Elliott starts in place of England international Chris Ashton who has been left out of the matchday squad. Ashton has reportedly signed a contract to join fellow Aviva Premiership team Saracens at the end of the season.

Jim Mallinder has unsurprisingly kept the forwards intact after a good showing against the Scarlets. Number 8 Roger Wilson will be looking to produce a strong display after confirming his move back to Ulster in the summer.

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: Ben Foden; Jamie Elliott, George Pisi, James Downey, Vasily Artemyev; Ryan Lamb, Lee Dickson; Soane Tonga’uiha, Dylan Hartley (capt), Brian Mujati, Samu Manoa, Mark Sorenson, Calum Clark, Phil Dowson, Roger Wilson.

Replacements: Brett Sharman, Alex Waller, Paul Doran Jones, Christian Day, Ben Nutley, Martin Roberts, Stephen Myler, Scott Armstrong.

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), Donnacha Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, James Coughlan.

Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Marcus Horan, Stephen Archer, Mick O’Driscoll, David O’Callaghan, Tomas O’Leary, Ian Keatley, Danny Barnes.

Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Cyril Lafond, Stephane Boyer (both France)
Television Match Official: Bernard Dal Maso (France)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Northampton Saints to win: 4/9; Draw: 19/1; Munster to win: 9/5

Pre-Match Quotes: Denis Hurley (Munster) – “This is a big one for us because, although we have qualified for the knockout stages, we have not yet got the home quarter-final we want.

“We have to go to Northampton to get the win and a home quarter-final because playing at home is massively important for both our players and fans.

“And the Saints and ourselves know each other pretty well after playing three matches in the 2009/10 Heineken Cup – there is always great competition between what are two very good sides.

“They may not be able to qualify for the quarter-finals but we know they will come out fighting because they are a very proud club and there were only two points in it when we won at Thomond Park in the opening round.

“There has been some talk of us not playing well but still winning but I feel we have stood tall against all the teams we have played against and, at the end of it, winning games is the most important thing.

“We are in this strong position because we have won all five of our pool games and when we click we are a very dangerous side.

“It means we have qualified for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals for the 13th time and that is a great record because we take enormous pride in our game.”

Jim Mallinder (Northampton Saints) – “We are disappointed we’re not in the Heineken Cup knockouts because we want to win every single game we can, but the Amlin Challenge Cup is a good competition and we used it as a good springboard a couple of years ago.

“We had a good result at the Scarlets last weekend, and if we attack with the same intensity and defend with the same passion and determination then we will have a good chance against a tough Munster outfit.

“The first game against us and the second game against Castres sum up what this Munster team is all about.

“They didn’t win by much, but they won, and that’s what the Heineken Cup is all about. They’ve got the players in their squad who know how to win and it will be a very difficult game.

“We are definitely going into Saturday’s match with our minds focused very much on getting the win. We have had a good run recently and have some big matches coming up, and want to keep our momentum going.”

Current Form – 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; (Heineken Cup): Lost 23-21 away to Munster; Lost 28-23 at home to the Scarlets; (Aviva Premiership): Won 30-8 at home to Saracens; Lost 30-25 away to Leicester Tigers; (Heineken Cup): Lost 41-22 away to Castres Olympique; Won 45-0 at home to Castres Olympique; (Aviva Premiership): Won 22-13 at home to Bath; Won 32-14 away to Newcastle Falcons; Won 24-3 at home to Harlequins; (Heineken Cup): Won 29-17 away to the Scarlets

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; Won 19-13 at home to the Scarlets; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 24-9 at home to Connacht; Lost 33-17 away to Ulster; Won 29-11 at home to Benetton Treviso; (Heineken Cup): Won 26-10 at home to Castres Olympique

Top Scorers – 2011/12 Heineken Cup: Northampton Saints – Points: Stephen Myler 39; Tries: Ben Foden 3; Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 67; Tries: Doug Howlett 2

Previous European Meetings: 5

Saturday, November 12, 2011 – Pool 1 – Munster 23 Northampton Saints 21, Thomond Park
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:

Northampton Saints –
2010/11: Runners-up
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
1999/00: Champions

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