Munster meet Amlin challenge
April 7, 2011
Munster's Ronan O'Gara has been declared fit to face Brive © PA Photos
Munster face Brive in the quarter-final of the Amlin Challenge Cup on Saturday as they look to overcome the disappointment of their Heineken Cup exit and claim more European silverware.
For the first time in 13 years Munster failed to progress to the last eight of the European Cup after a 32-16 defeat Toulon ended their hopes of a third crown. But earlier defeats away to London Irish and the Ospreys had played their part in rendering meaningless a perfect home record.
Brive reached the last eight by virtue of their 100% record in the Amlin Challenge Cup, as they topped Pool 2 ahead of Sale Sharks. Their two decisive results, 15-13 and 18-9 victories, came in the space of nine days in December.
Brive - Player to watch: Brive skipper Antonie Claassen is one of the Top 14's most dangerous back-row operators and will relish the challenge posed by Munster's gritty trio.
Brive - Team news: French international Alexis Palisson starts on the wing while Fabrice Estebanez, who is hoping to influence Marc Lievremont's Rugby World Cup squad, is paired in midfield with former England centre Jamie Noon.
Munster - Player to watch: Paul O'Connell misses out with the ankle injury he sustained against Leinster last weekend, with Mick O'Driscoll tasked with providing a physical edge and leadership from the second-row.
Munster - Team news: Felix Jones beats Paul Warwick to the fullback berth, while Lifeimi Mafi and Sam Tuitupou form a physical centre pairing. Keith Earls shifts to the wing while Ronan O'Gara is partnered at halfback by youngster Conor Murray.
Key Battle:The French side will want to prevent Munster from taking a stranglehold on the game, meaning that their pack must dominate the physical exchanges and breakdown in order to stop O'Gara from dictating.
Trivia: O'Gara is the leading points scorer in European competition.
Stats: Julien Caminati is Brive's all-time top points scorer in European rugby with 97.
"French teams at home are going to be difficult. They look physical, they look direct. They'll be tough and awkward. But they'll get the same amount of work that Leinster got last week." - O'Gara promises a tough outing for Brive
"Taking the game lightly is out of the question. We won't be spectators of our own game and, on the contrary, we will take our chances." - Brive centre Fabrice Estebanez.
Prediction: Munster, wounded by watching their usual rivals in the Heineken Cup quarters, will grind out a win in France
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The Heineken Cup proved once again just why it is the best domestic rugby competition in the world at the weekend and Monday Maul picks out some of the key talking points
The latest Week in Pictures brings you a selection of the best snaps from around the rugby world with scantily clad ladies, O'Driscoll and snow all featuring
"If I miss the first kick of the match, it shouldn't have any impact on the second. They are different entities." Tom Hamilton talks to Northampton Saints' Stephen Myler
It's time for those running Welsh rugby to stop trying to prevent its players heading to France and to start planning a future without them, writes Martin Williamson