MUNSTER’S hopes of reaching the knock-out stages of the European Champions Cup for the 16th time in 17 seasons hang on a knife edge in the wake of the province’s first ever home defeat to a French side last weekend.
Munster travel to the Stade Marcel Michelin this Sunday for the second of their back-to-back meetings with Clermont Auvergne this Sunday, 3.15pm Irish time, knowing they must take a losing bonus point from the game at a minimum to harbour realistic ambitions of progressing from the group heading into the final two rounds of pool fixtures in January.
1. Silencing the crowd
MUNSTER will be desperate to make a quick start to Sunday’s game on the back of two sluggish opening half displays against Clermont and Ulster in recent weeks.
Clermont fans are renowned for the passionate support they give to their team at the Marcel Michelin.
No visiting team has managed to beat Clermont at their home stadium in European competition since Sale Sharks recorded a 32-15 win there in October 2008. And Clermont held a 77-game unbeaten home run at the venue in the French Top 14 until Castres ended it last May. If Munster are to defy their 3/1 odds on Sunday, they need to make a good start.
2. Consistent Set-Piece
Munster’s set-piece play wasn’t at its sharpest against Clermont last weekend at Thomond Park.
The line-out, such a dependable source of good quality possession for Munster traditionally, creaked on several occasions last weekend, while Munster also experienced problems in the scrum in the opening half on Saturday. Munster’s set-piece play needs to operating at 100% this weekend if the visitors are to harbour realistic ambitions of topping the French Top 14 high flyers.
3. Injury Concerns
THE Munster management team only made two substitutions during their energy sapping clash with Clermont last weekend. And both of those substitutions, of prop Dave Kilcoyne and winger Gerhard van den Heever, were brought about by injury.
Van den Heever has already been ruled out of Sunday’s return tie due to a knee injury. Munster will be hoping that the likes of James Cronin, who replaced the injured Dave Kilcoyne on Saturday, Robin Copeland and Andrew Smith will be fit enough to see game-time this Sunday. Clermont were not slow to make changes last weekend, their options facilitated by their strong bench.
4. Match Sharpness
MUNSTER brought five Irish internationals back into their side on Saturday, Paul O’Connell, Conor Murray, Simon Zebo, Peter O’Mahony and Dave Foley. All five are sure to benefit on Sunday from having a game back with the province under their belts.