Munster primed for French exam
November 18, 2011
O'Gara clinched victory for Munster with his injury-time strike © Getty Images
Munster's love affair with the Heineken Cup shows no signs of losing its passion, as evidenced by last weekend's last-gasp victory over Northampton Saints at Thomond Park.
After failing to make the quarter-finals for the first time in 13 years last season, the province looked set to suffer a very early setback to right that wrong as they found themselves trailing by a point in the dying seconds in Limerick. However, after an incredible 41 phases of play, Ronan O'Gara, as he has so often done in the past, came to Munster's rescue, slotting over a drop goal which nicked a dramatic 23-21 victory for the home side.
Tony McGahan will no doubt be hoping that the momentum and confidence garnered from that win will propel his side to victory in France. However, Castres cannot be taken lightly. Their record in the Heineken Cup is poor and they were beaten by the Scarlets in Llanelli last weekend. However, they currently lie third in the Top 14 - no mean feat - and are a difficult proposition at the Stade Pierre Antoine. In addition, this is a game they cannot afford to lose so seasoned campaigners Munster will be bracing themselves for another almighty battle on French soil.
Castres - Player to Watch: Max Evans takes his bow for Castres in the Heineken Cup and after a disappointing World Cup campaign with Scotland, he will aim to show what made Castres move to bring him across the channel from Glasgow.
Castres - Team News: Castres have rung the changes for this clash with Florian Denos starting at fullback with Max Evans and Marc Andreu getting the nod on the wings. Paul Bonnefond starts in the centres alongside Pierre-Manuel Garcia while Pierre Bernard and Thierry Lacrampe form the half-backs. Chris Masoe anchors the scrum at No.8 with Yannick Caballero and Jannie Bornman starting on the flanks. Iosefa Tekori and Scott Murray form the second-row with the front-row taking the guise of Karena Wihongi, Brice Mach and Anton Peikrishvili.
Munster - Player to Watch: Doug Howlett scored one of the tries of the weekend against Northampton on Saturday and despite the former All Blacks winger entering the twilight years of his career, expect him to shine come Saturday.
Munster - Team News: Tony McGahan names the same side which despatched the Northampton Saints for their clash with Castres. The only change to the matchday squad sees Marcus Horan come onto the bench in place of John Ryan.
Key Battle: Thierry Lacrampe against Conor Murray at scrum-half should be an intreguing battle. Murray impressed during the World Cup but is still finding his feet on the European stage.
Trivia: These two sides last met in the pool stages of the 2005/2006 tournament, with Munster winning both home and away
Stats: Munster have won 22 of their 32 clashes with French opposition in the Heineken Cup
"We now have a big game against Munster next week in Toulouse. That is going to be a big battle up front"
"They've a big forward pack, very strong, very physical, a set-piece dominated very traditional French side. Then a strong 9 and 10 who kick the ball extremely well. Teulet who we know very well is there to kick the penalties. Two big centres, Cabannes and Bonnefond, who're able to play thru that channel one position, then play off the back of that. Impressive."
Prediction: Castres were unimpressive against the Scarlets so Munster will edge this clash
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ireland have the world sitting up and taking notice - and rugby's structure in Europe will aid their Rugby World Cup bid, writes John Mitchell
Where does Italy's win over Scotland rank among their successes in the Six Nations? Scrum Sevens investigates
The tone was set early on in Dublin as a more clinical Ireland made England pay. All is not lost, however, argues Phil Vickery
Monday Maul takes in retirement talk, England reshuffles, France's unfair advantage and Scotland's communication breakdown