The Heineken Cup may be gone for another year, but Munster still have plenty to play for when they entertain London Irish in their final Pool 3 match at Thomond Park. Qualification for the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals could be secured, and the management will be looking for the players to deliver a performance of purpose and promise.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 3: Saturday, January 22
MUNSTER (2nd) v LONDON IRISH (4th), Thomond Park, 3.30pm (live Sky Sports Xtra/Red Button)
Team News: Munster head coach Tony McGahan has made seven changes – two of them positional – for the province’s Heineken Cup Pool 3 clash with London Irish at Thomond Park.
In the back-line, Paul Warwick, who suffered a heavy knock against Toulon, and Sam Tuitupou, who strained a hamstring in training this week, both miss out along with Peter Stringer.
Tomas O’Leary has been preferred to Stringer at scrum half, with Lifeimi Mafi and Denis Hurley returning to the starting line-up and Johne Murphy reverting to full-back.
Paul O’Connell will have Mick O’Driscoll as his second row partner, while Niall Ronan will slot in at openside flanker, leaving David Wallace, Munster’s try scorer against Toulon, to make the move to the blindside.
Donncha O’Callaghan and James Coughlan are listed amongst the replacements, with Donnacha Ryan sidelined by a hamstring injury.
Scott Deasy and Tom Gleeson are included in the squad after impressing for Munster in the British & Irish Cup last weekend.
Speaking ahead of the round 6 clash with Irish, winger Denis Hurley said: “Of course, I understand the supporters’ disappointment (at not qualifying for the quarter-finals). We feel it just as keenly.
“People went to extraordinary lengths and huge expense in difficult times to support us last weekend in Toulon. And you like to repay that sort of loyalty. But I think we still can.
“I’d like to see last Sunday’s game, not as the ending that some people might, but as a starting point for us for the rest of the season.
“There’s a huge game ahead of us on Saturday. There’s our goal, set out at the start, to win our home games. There’s our record here at Thomond Park and the possibility of a place in the Amlin Challenge Cup.
“And there’s the Magners League after that, so really we have a lot that we can deliver on,” he added.
Meanwhile, London Irish will line out with Dan Bowden at out-half for the third game in succession. He will be partnered at half-back by Darren Allinson, who won the Amlin Challenge Cup with the Cardiff Blues last season.
Topsy Ojo, who touched down against Munster in round 1, moves to full-back to cover for the suspended Delon Armitage, while winger Adam Thompstone makes the starting line-up after a late appearance in last Sunday’s win over the Ospreys.
Samoan centre Seilala Mapusua, who will leave the club at the end of the season, will again captain Irish. Ireland international Bob Casey was due to start, but suffered a knee injury in training on Thursday, while former Leinster hooker Brian Blaney has been named on the replacements bench.
Commenting on the game, London Irish head coach Toby Booth said: “The win against the Ospreys was fantastic, we worked hard and earned a result. We need to keep that momentum rolling.
“We are under no illusions about the task ahead of us, Munster are an extremely well resourced side and we expect it to be tough. The squad has prepared hard this week and we will fight tooth and nail to get a victory.”
Irish beat the Ospreys 24-12 at the Madejski Stadium to end a ten-match losing streak, and edged out Munster on a 23-17 scoreline at the same venue back in October.
MUNSTER: Johne Murphy; Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Lifeimi Mafi, Denis Hurley; Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, John Hayes, Mick O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell, David Wallace, Niall Ronan, Denis Leamy (capt).
Replacements: Mike Sherry, Darragh Hurley, Tony Buckley, Donncha O’Callaghan, James Coughlan, Peter Stringer, Scott Deasy, Tom Gleeson.
LONDON IRISH: Topsy Ojo; Adam Thompstone, Elvis Seveali’i, Seilala Mapusua (capt), Sailosi Tagicakibau; Dan Bowden, Darren Allinson; Alex Corbisiero, James Buckland, Faan Rautenbach, Nick Kennedy, Matt Garvey, George Stowers, Jamie Gibson, Chris Hala’ufia.
Replacements: Brian Blaney, Dan Murphy, Paulica Ion, Richard Thorpe, Kieran Roche, Marcus Watson, Ryan Lamb, Paul Hodgson.
Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Gwyn Morris, Jonathan Mason (both Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/6; Draw: 22/1; London Irish to win: 4/1
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Pre-Match Quotes: Tony McGahan (Munster) – “I’m sure for the players, like the management, it’s been an emotional rollercoaster the last few days, through sadness and a bit of anger and then frustration – but now a determination to make sure that we finish off the campaign (on a high).
“We wanted to make sure we won all our home games, that was a real target for us. We’re playing at home this week, and for our supporters, it’s important to get a decent performance out.
“Any organisation needs to evolve and evolve on a number of fronts. All of those factors are there and Munster’s no different.
“We’ve been analysing ourselves heavily since I came in over two years ago, right from our underage system through our Academy and all the way through to the playing group itself, and what’s important at this point in time is where are we going to be at certain stages in the next three to five years and what do we need to get there.
“We’re also looking at our coaches and developing coaches at the same time and looking at a playing style than can compete on two fronts successfully and how we do that. All the questions that have been asked are certainly valid. When you don’t win, questions need to be asked.”
Steffon Armitage (London Irish) – “We’ve got to go out there and give it everything, this is just like a final. I don’t need anything else to get me worked up – just going over to Ireland is a big thing for me.
“We’ve played the last 11 games and only won one, and we’ve got to start building towards the Premiership.
“I started off really well this season, then I got injured and was out for five or six games. It took a while for me to get my fitness back.
“I think there’s only upwards for me at the moment, I’ll keep pushing and hopefully I can get back into the England team. First of all though I want London Irish to get some wins because that’s more important for me.”
Current Form – Munster – (Magners League): Won 33-17 at home to Aironi Rugby; Won 16-13 away to Edinburgh; Won 22-10 at home to the Ospreys; Won 43-29 away to Glasgow Warriors; Lost 13-9 away to Leinster; (Heineken Cup): Lost 23-17 away to London Irish; Won 45-18 at home to Toulon; (Magners League): Won 39-13 at home to Benetton Treviso; Won 16-6 away to Ulster; Won 27-26 at home to the Scarlets; Lost 20-6 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 16-9 at home to the Cardiff Blues; (Heineken Cup): Won 22-16 at home to the Ospreys; Lost 19-15 away to the Ospreys; (Magners League): Won 16-12 away to Connacht; Won 35-10 at home to Ulster; Won 22-20 at home to Glasgow Warriors; (Heineken Cup): Lost 32-16 away to Toulon
London Irish – (Aviva Premiership): Won 33-16 at home to Saracens; Lost 20-13 away to Bath; Won 23-16 at home to Gloucester; Won 46-12 away to Newcastle Falcons; Won 40-24 at home to Leeds Carnegie; (Heineken Cup): Won 23-17 at home to Munster; Lost 27-16 away to the Ospreys; (Aviva Premiership): Won 12-9 away to the Exeter Chiefs; Won 39-26 at home to Sale Sharks; (LV= Cup): Lost 39-14 away to Sale Sharks; Lost 25-16 at home to the Scarlets; (Aviva Premiership): Lost 33-25 away to London Wasps; Lost 35-23 away to Northampton Saints; Lost 23-14 at home to Leicester Tigers; (Heineken Cup): Lost 19-13 at home to Toulon; Lost 38-17 away to Toulon; (Aviva Premiership): Lost 28-18 away to Harlequins; Lost 25-24 at home to Bath; Lost 12-6 away to Saracens; (Heineken Cup): Won 24-12 at home to the Ospreys
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Heineken Cup: Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 50; Tries: Doug Howlett 3; London Irish – Points: Ryan Lamb 34; Tries: Topsy Ojo, Sailosi Tagicakibau 2 each
Previous European Meetings: 1
Saturday, October 9, 2010 – Pool 3 – London Irish 23 Munster 17, Madejski Stadium
Heineken Cup Records:
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
London Irish –
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2007/08: Reached the semi-finals
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2002/03: Failed to qualify from Pool 5