Munster return to fortress Thomond
October 14, 2010
Ronan O'Gara feels the force against London Irish © Getty Images
The Heineken Cup glamour ties just keep coming this weekend with Munster set to welcome Toulon to Thomond Park on Saturday in an eagerly-awaited Pool 3 clash.
The Irish giants have lost some of their aura in recent seasons but remain major contenders, especially on their home track. Last weekend's late show to secure a losing bonus-point against London Irish was straight out of the Munster playbook and Toulon will likely learn a lesson or two about the Heineken Cup this weekend.
They secured a maiden victory, over the Ospreys, with some late pyrotechnics of their own in the opening round and boast superb strength in depth. Attitude will be crucial from the new-boys in Limerick.
Munster - Player to Watch: Fly-half Ronan O'Gara ensured his side grabbed a vital euro lifeline last time out and will be keen to issue another reminder of his class against the Heineken Cup newcomers.
Munster - Team News: Johne Murphy switches from fullback to inside centre in the absence of the suspended Sam Tuitupou with Paul Warwick filling the No.15 shirt. Alan Quinlan returns to the blindside flank, David Wallace retains his spot at openside and Denis Leamy moves to No.8. Mick O'Driscoll will partner Donncha O'Callaghan and Jerry Flannery makes a return to the squad for the first time since the semi-final loss to Biarritz last season.
Toulon - Player to Watch: Toulon talisman Joe van Nierkerk never fails to catch the eye and he is sure to relish the exposure offered by this high-profile clash.
Toulon - Team News: In-form fly-half Jonny Wilkinson drops to the bench with Felipe Contepomi claiming the No.10 shirt. Paul Sackey, Mafi Kefu and George Smith are the only survivors of the win over Ospreys with big names likes Rudi Wulf, Carl Hayman, and Van Niekerk entering the mix.
Key Battle: The Munster back-row trio of Quinlan, Wallace and Leamy have clocked up plenty of miles over the years but face a fresh challenge in the form of former Wallabies skipper George Smith, Joe El Abd and Van Niekerk. Prepare for carnage.
Trivia: Munster have a winning record against French opposition in Europe but did take their heaviest beating against Toulouse in 1996-97 - shipping nine tries and 60 points.
Stats: Munster have only lost twice at home in the Heineken Cup and once went 31 matches unbeaten at Thomond Park.
"We never do things the easy way -- we've lost the first game in an extremely tough group. It's a matter of refocusing and expecting a very difficult challenge against a really good French side." - Munster scrum-half Peter Stringer
"We are going to Thomond Park to learn. I'm sure the Munster guys will be angry. They play in front of their own fans, the stadium will be full and they have a lot to prove." - Toulon boss Philippe Saint-Andre expects a hostile reception
Prediction: Munster's opening round defeat will no doubt trigger a ferocious backlash with a star-studded Toulon set to get the lesson they desire as a result.
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