London Irish v Munster, Heineken Cup, October 9
Irish eyes fixed on the Madejski
October 7, 2010
Exiles captain Bob Casey will be hoping to inspire his side to another victory over an Irish province © Getty Images
London Irish host Munster at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday evening in what promises to be one of the games of the opening weekend of the Heineken Cup.
The hosts' Pool clashes against Leinster in last season's tournament were memorable affairs, with the Exiles managing a famous win over the then reigning champions in Dublin on the opening weekend before being held to a draw at Twickenham by the province in round six, a result which ultimately cost Toby Booth's men a place in the last eight. They will be determined to avoid making the same mistake this time around.
Munster, though, remain one of the most formidable sides in Europe. The two-time champions could only make the semi-finals last year but despite the absence of some key personnel, they have made an encouraging start to the new season and currently sit top of the Magners League table - despite losing out to Leinster last weekend.
London Irish - Player to Watch: Bob Casey was man of the match when the Exiles tackled Leinster in round one 12 months ago; he will be targeting a repeat performance against his home province's bitter rivals. His hopes of bossing the lineout have hardly been hindered by the absence of Munster's Paul O'Connell.
London Irish - Team News: Sailosi Tagicakibau returns to the Exiles' starting line-up and will make his 100th appearance for the club. Classy Kiwi centre Dan Bowden has been surprisingly dropped to the bench, leaving Seilala Mapusua and Elvis Seveali'i to form a powerful midfield pairing.
Munster - Player to Watch: Keith Earls has been out of action for a long while but has been thrown in at the deep end on Saturday. With Lifeimi Mafi banned, he was always likely to start and will be desperate not to disappoint at outside-centre.
Munster - Team News: As already mentioned, Munster will again be without their talismanic skipper O'Connell, who is now not expected back until just before Christmas. Denis Leamy skippers the side in his absence, with David Wallace missing out on a place in the back-row to Niall Ronan and James Coughlan. Peter Stringer starts at scrum-half in place of the injured Tomas O'Leary while Johne Murphy beats Paul Warwick to the fullback berth.
Key Battle: The head-to-head between the two No.10s, Ryan Lamb and Ronan O'Gara, will be absolutely fascinating. Lamb has been in fine form with the boot for the Exiles in recent weeks and appears finally ready to fulfil his undoubted potential. However, the wily O'Gara very rarely fails to rise to a challenge in Europe's premier rugby competition.
Trivia: Munster have qualified for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup for the past 12 seasons.
Stats: London Irish certainly like to keep the ball in hand as they are the only side in the Aviva Premiership to have made 700 passes so far this season.
"Despite Munster's reputation we are confident in our own ability and have prepared for Saturday's match exceptionally well. We believe that on our day we can be a handful for any team, whatever their history and I am expecting an excellent game of rugby." - London Irish head coach Toby Booth
"It's great to have Keith back in the squad. He did a full session on Tuesday and came through that with no ill-efects. The only concern would of course be match time. He hasn't had any of that for a long time. But it's great to have him back in the match day squad, particularly when you think of the injuries we have." - Munster squad advisor Mick Galwey
Prediction: An epic encounter in prospect. London Irish might just nick it but Munster will emerge with a crucial losing bonus point.
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