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Heineken Cup Preview: Perpignan v Munster

Heineken Cup Preview: Perpignan v Munster

Well-beaten in Limerick last Sunday, Perpignan are expected to put up a much stiffer challenge on home soil when Pool 6 leaders Munster look to tighten their grip on top spot this weekend.

HEINEKEN CUP POOL 6: Saturday, December 14

PERPIGNAN (3rd) v MUNSTER (1st), Stade Aimé Giral, 4.40pm local time/3.40pm Irish time (live Sky Sports 2 HD/RTÉ Radio 1/highlights TG4)

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Team News: Donnacha Ryan is one of four players drafted into Rob Penney’s Munter team for Saturday’s crucial Heineken Cup round 4 clash with Perpignan.

Ryan has not featured for Munster since injuring knee ligaments against Gloucester in October, but makes his return ahead of schedule to partner Paul O’Connell in the second row.

There is only one change in the backs as scrum half Cathal Sheridan gets the nod ahead of Duncan Williams to replace the injured Conor Murray after impressing in last weekend’s bonus point win.

Head coach Penney has continued his rotation policy with two changes in the front row. James Cronin and South African BJ Botha replace Ireland internationals David Kilcoyne and Stephen Archer.

Damien Varley keeps his place in the side with Shannon hooker Duncan Casey hoping to make his second Munster appearance off the bench after his cameo last time out.

The back row combination of captain Peter O’Mahony, Sean Dougall and James Coughlan remains intact.

Out-half Ian Keatley, as expected, has recovered from the dead leg he sustained during the round 3 game to start in the number 10 jersey again.

Outside of Keatley, James Downey and Casey Laulala retain their places in the centre with the back-three of Johne Murphy, last Sunday’s man-of-the-match Keith Earls and Felix Jones unchanged.

The notable inclusion on the replacements bench is last season’s Player of the Year, Tommy O’Donnell. O’Donnell made his comeback from injury off the bench for Munster ‘A’ last weekend after suffering a hyper-extension of his knee against Zebre in September.

Meanwhile, former Munster centre Lifeimi Mafi will start for Perpignan when they entertain the province at their Stade Aimé Giral fortress.

Mafi was suspended for the round 3 trip to Limerick, but the Tongan-born back returns this weekend as one of seven changes to the starting line-up.

Joffrey Michel, the scorer of last week’s late consolation try, shifts to full-back for the rested James Hook, with Richard Haughton starting on the right wing.

The experienced Mafi combines with Watisoni Votu in midfield and young Italian international Tommy Allan is paired with Nicolas Durand at half-back.

Guillaume Vilaceca has a new second row partner in the powerfully-built Sébastien Vahaamahina, while Samoa’s Dan Leo and English captain Luke Narraway make up an all-international back row with Scotland flanker Alasdair Strokosch.

“We’re at home and the boys love playing at home in front of a great crowd but we also have to show up and prove over 80 minutes what we showed for glimpses last weekend,” said Hook. “We showed some good stuff at times but need to show it for longer periods.”

PERPIGNAN: Joffrey Michel; Richard Haughton, Lifeimi Mafi, Watisoni Votu, Sofiane Guitoune; Tommy Allan, Nicolas Durand; Sébastien Taofifenua, Romain Terrain, Paulica Ion, Sébastien Vahaamahina, Guillaume Vilaceca, Dan Leo, Alasdair Strokosch, Luke Narraway (capt).

Replacements: Guilhem Guirado, Pascal Cotet, Jean Baptiste Custoja, Justin Purll, Tom Ecochard, David Marty, Tommaso Benvenuti, Jean-Pierre Perez.

MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Johne Murphy; Ian Keatley, Cathal Sheridan; James Cronin, Damien Varley, BJ Botha, Donnacha Ryan, Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony (capt), Sean Dougall, James Coughlan.

Replacements: Duncan Casey, David Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Denis Hurley.

Referee: JP Doyle (England)
Assistant Referees: Martin Fox, Paul Dix (both England)
Television Match Official: Rowan Kitt (England)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Perpignan to win: 6/5; Draw: 20/1; Munster to win: 8/11

Pre-Match Quotes: Rob Penney (Munster) – “(We’re expecting a much sterner test), very much so. They’re steaming I think.

“They’re alluding to a few things apparently about the refereeing and so forth. I think they’re throwing some distractions and red herrings out there and trying to take away from the disappointment of the outcome so, to that end, they’ll be trying to ambush us.

“We’re going into this game with a pretty positive mindset. There is certainly the ability in the group to go up another level and that will be the challenge because we’re going to need to (this weekend).

“Cathal (Sheridan) been developed well by the Munster organisation. He is someone that has come in and been given an opportunity and he’s been given a lot of help, but you make your own luck to a degree.

“He’s had an opportunity and he’s proved that he’s worthy. It is a great reward for him and it’s great reward for the people who have put the work in behind the scenes to get him to that level and we’re equally as comfortable with Duncan (Williams).”

Johne Murphy (Munster) – “The first half performance was pretty hectic but it was good actually, and quite enjoyable, but in the second half we slacked off a little bit.

“It was tough keeping that pace but going out there this weekend we need to very much keep that going for 80 minutes.

“The first 40 minutes (last Sunday) were as good as we played really, we’re happy but, as Earlsy (Keith Earls) said after the game, we’re probably about 20-30% off where we’re trying to get to so it’s about getting there little by little.

“We knew that our defensive decision making at times wasn’t what it should be, we’ve addressed that and fingers crossed we make all the right decisions (on Saturday).

“I’ve been lucky enough to play there before with Leicester and Dan Carter was over there that time, so it was very enjoyable. They try to intimidate you.

“I can remember kicking before the game by the goalposts and they were throwing things at myself and one of the other guys so it was pretty intimidating, but it’s what you want.

“It’s really enjoyable to be part of such an occasion in the south of France, it’s what we all want to be a part of so hopefully it will be a good day.”

Current Form – Perpignan – (Top 14 Championship): Won 26-23 at home to Castres Olympique; Lost 28-27 at home to Stade Francais; Lost 31-20 away to Bayonne; Won 36-13 at home to Grenoble; Lost 19-16 away to Racing Metro 92; Won 28-16 at home to Montpellier; Lost 31-6 away to Brive; Won 20-16 at home to Toulouse; Won 16-12 away to Biarritz Olympique; (Heineken Cup): Lost 27-22 away to Gloucester; Won 31-14 at home to Edinburgh; (Top 14 Championship): Won 31-20 at home to Bordeaux-Begles; Lost 22-9 away to Oyonnax; Lost 15-9 away to Toulon; Lost 30-23 at home to Clermont Auvergne; (Heineken Cup): Lost 36-8 away to Munster

Munster – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 34-23 at home to Edinburgh; Won 43-21 away to Zebre; Lost 29-19 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 23-9 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 19-15 at home to Leinster; (Heineken Cup): Lost 29-23 away to Edinburgh; Won 26-10 at home to Gloucester; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 13-6 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 12-6 at home to the Ospreys; Won 31-10 away to Cardiff Blues; Won 18-14 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; (Heineken Cup): Won 36-8 at home to Perpignan

Top Scorers – 2013/14 Heineken Cup: Perpignan – Points: James Hook 36; Tries: Wandile Mjekevu, Joffrey Michel 2 each; Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 36; Tries: Casey Laulala, Mike Sherry, Damien Varley, Johne Murphy, Sean Dougall, David Kilcoyne, Keith Earls, James Coughlan 1 each

Previous European Meetings: 8

Sunday, December 8, 2013 – Pool 6 – Munster 36 Perpignan 8, Thomond Park
Sunday, December 20, 2009 – Pool 1 – Perpignan 14 Munster 37, Stade Aime Giral
Friday, December 11, 2009 – Pool 1 – Munster 24 Perpignan 23, Thomond Park
Saturday, April 1, 2006 – Quarter-Final – Munster 19 Perpignan 10, Lansdowne Road
Saturday, January 11, 2002 – Pool 2 – Perpignan 23 Munster 8, Stade Aime Giral
Saturday, October 19, 2002 – Pool 2 – Munster 30 Perpignan 21, Thomond Park
Saturday, October 31, 1998 – Pool B – Munster 13 Perpignan 5, Musgrave Park
Saturday, October 10, 1998 – Pool B – Perpignan 41 Munster 24, Stade Gilbert Brutus

Heineken Cup Records:

Perpignan –
2010/11: Reached the semi-finals
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2007/08: Reached the quarter-finals
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2005/06: Reached the quarter-finals
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2002/03: Runners-up
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1998/99: Reached the semi-finals

Munster –
2012/13: Reached the semi-finals
2011/12: Reached the quarter-finals
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