The match is almost upon us and Munster are looking to get the better of the second half of this European back-to-back clash.
The odds are so heavily stacked against us it is making it difficult to make any sort of prediction. Perhaps it’s ‘chip on the shoulder’ time again. Whatever happens, we need a big performance. It’s been a while since fans have been so pessimistic approaching a game. Ireland V All Blacks comes to mind…
Munster Lineup: John Ryan, Duncan Casey, BJ Botha, Dave Foley, Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander; Conor Murray, Ian Keatley, JJ Hanrahan, Andrew Smith; Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway, Felix Jones
Last weekends desperate disappointments of watching Clermont bully Munster compounded by frustrating officials, must be erased from the mind. It’s a new venue this week, a stronger Munster side and it will be reffed by the World’s best – Nigel Owens.
The game will be played out on a wide pitch where Clermont will look to be expansive. Munster must break that down.
Peter O’Mahony is maturing and his game of aggression and poaching has been moulded into a Richie McCaw type nuisance. He will once again be key to slowing down opposition possession from the get go.
Fellow backrow members Tommy O’Donnell and CJ Stander meanwhile, will have to hit Lopez all day. If enough pressure was applied here Ian Keatley might even have a licence to help Hanrahan defend the 12 channel attacked by Wesley Fofana when the ball gets out.
This season Munster have been identified for playing a forward orientated game. Players like Stander will have to step up from last week and drive Munster on. From midfield possession Munster may be forced to reduce box kicks away from home. However, when Murray does kick high, there needs to be a good chase or Clemont with the returning Zac Guildford will run it straight back. This is important.
On Clermont ball particularly in the 22, Munster will be looking to grapple for the ball on the deck. Wayne Barnes gave no reward for this but Munster do it efficiently and it can be effective. We saw it at its best against Leinster and Saracens and don’t be surprised if we get reward this week too.
John Ryan makes his European debut on Sunday. Ryan is a solid scrummager and a powerful defender but doesn’t offer the ball carrying ability of Cronin or Kilcoyne. Therefore, he should be grand. Unfortunately, problems may occur on the other side. BJ Botha’s scrummaging angles have been a point of discussion all week and Nigel Owens has been tweeted about the issue. Last week Barnes was not a fan but whether we are on the right or wrong side of the Welshman’s judgement is still to be seen.
Hanrahan and Smith in, Hurley and Howard out. The centre partnership is creative and powerful, just what you want.
Foley will set out to watch his side roll over the defence with tight carrying and spirited determination. The lineout will be key too but once that forward drive dies we need to see execution and energy. A fully functioning centre pairing is perfect. JJ’s flair and Smith’s physicality and eye for a try is far more positive than Hurley at crash ball and Pat Howard whom was good but doesn’t give the edge required. The stat that the centres got 4 and 5 respective touches in Thomond Park backs this up.
The selected men will have a job to set Zebo and Conway off into space and in the big pitch covered by French 4pm clouds it couldn’t be more suitable.
The players are up for it, you should be too.