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Wood warns Wasps of Thomond Park factor
PA Sport
January 18, 2008

Keith Wood believes European champions Wasps probably have the better team heading into tomorrow's crunch Heineken Cup clash against Munster in Limerick.

But former Ireland captain and Munster hooker Wood is predicting a home win, claiming Wasps will not overcome the Thomond Park factor.

Wasps must prosper at the most daunting venue in Heineken Cup history, or hopes of emulating Leicester's achievement five years ago and retaining their
European title will effectively disappear.

And it is the Tigers who can inspire Pool Five leaders Wasps tomorrow, having made history last season by ending Munster's long unbeaten tournament record at
Thomond Park.

Wood said: ``I think it will be a great game, but I am tipping Munster to win it because of the Thomond Park factor.

``Wasps probably have the better team with more options and firepower. They are also the defending champions, and they thrive on winning away from home.

``But Thomond Park is such a difficult place to play. Munster have lost there just once in 10 years of Heineken Cup rugby - that tells its own story.''

Wasps' Guinness Premiership rivals Gloucester and Sale Sharks know from painful experience that Munster are at their imperious best when chasing a
prized quarter-final place.

Gloucester were smashed 33-6 in 2003, while Sale succumbed 31-9 three years later, with Munster overcoming sizeable odds on both occasions to reach the last
eight.

Those so-called `miracle matches' of Munster rugby folklore underline just how difficult a task Wasps face.

A bonus point home win should give Munster top spot - it could also dump the Londoners out - but a draw would be enough for Wasps, or even a losing bonus.

Wood added: ``There have been so many miracle matches where Munster have pulled it out of the bag. That is far more than coincidence.

``The fans are right on the edge of the pitch, and this creates a brilliant atmosphere that puts a lot of pressure on the visiting team.

``Munster have always enjoyed a special bond with their fans that was forged when we lost the European final to Northampton in 2000.

``After the final whistle, we started heading for the tunnel at Twickenham, but the 40,000 Munster fans in the ground didn't move.

``Instead, they started singing Fields of Athenry, and that lifted us so much.

``It was as if they were saying `we are disappointed that you lost - we are upset with you, but we are not going anywhere. We will always support you'.''

Wasps rugby director Ian McGeechan makes two changes from the side that crushed Llanelli Scarlets last weekend, with Josh Lewsey replacing full-back
David Doherty and centre Rob Hoadley deputising for Riki Flutey.

Neither Flutey (hamstring) nor England flanker Joe Worsley (neck) were considered for the trip to Limerick.

McGeechan said: ``Munster are a team with an outstanding European record.

``We have huge respect for them and what they have achieved in this competition, and we will have to be on world-class form to get anything from
this game.''

London Irish boss Brian Smith will demand 80 minutes of concentration from his team when the Exiles target a quarter-final place in Italy tomorrow.

A bonus point victory over Treviso would see Irish finish top of Pool One, even if rivals Perpignan claim the maximum five points against Newport Gwent
Dragons.

Irish mentally switched off at times during last weekend's appointment with the Dragons, and Smith is well aware that Treviso's previous home Heineken Cup
scalps include Wasps, Bath and Harlequins.

He said: ``We are under no illusions about the difficulty of the task that awaits us.

``Understandably, our squad is excited at the prospect of progressing to the knockout stages of this great tournament for the first time in the club's
history.

``They learned a valuable lesson against the Dragons about the importance of respecting the opposition and keeping their concentration for 80 minutes.

``That will be essential tomorrow afternoon in Treviso.''

Irish's South Africa prop Faan Rautenbach makes his first appearance since early October, while in-form Shane Geraghty wears the number 10 shirt,
partnering Peter Richards at half-back.

Leicester, already eliminated following Pool Six away defeats against Leinster, Toulouse and Edinburgh, face a Welford Road appointment with Leinster
tomorrow.

The Irish challengers, who tackle a Tigers side minus injured quintet Martin Corry, Lewis Moody, Tom Croft, Aaron Mauger and Dan Hipkiss, can still reach the
last eight - but only if Toulouse lose at home to Edinburgh.

Sunday's action will see Gloucester, boosted by wing Lesley Vainikolo's return, secure a quarter-final home tie if they defeat Kingsholm visitors Ulster
in bonus point fashion, with Pool Two rivals the Ospreys also going through by beating French hosts Bourgoin.

Bristol, meanwhile, will be without wing David Lemi - he has flown home to New Zealand because of a family illness - for the Memorial Stadium encounter against Pool Three leaders Cardiff Blues.

Victory for the Blues would put them through, but both Bristol and French champions Stade Francais, who visit Harlequins, retain quarter-final ambitions.

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